×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Director-Choreographer-Performer Tommy Tune Talks About the Start of His Stage Career

Actor, dancer, singer, theater director, producer and choreographer Tommy Tune has collected 10 Tonys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. The 6’6” (and every inch irrepressible) Tune was first honored more than 40 years ago for “Seesaw,” and his gifts helped power such stage works as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “My One and Only,” “Nine,” “The Will Rogers Follies” and “Cloud 9.”

Now in the sixth decade of his career, Tune returns to the road with another stage legend, Chita Rivera, as their “Chita & Tune: Just in Time” tour makes stops in Florida, California and elsewhere this month.

Variety first noticed Tune on Feb. 20, 1963, as he earned his first paycheck (or should have) as a director of a musical-variety show at Houston’s Rice Hotel.

Most bios start your professional career in New York City, but before you ever left Texas, Variety credited you as director of a variety show featuring The Ames Brothers.

It wasn’t my first job, but it was the first paying job.

When did you start producing shows?

My parents told me I was choreographing before I could walk. In elementary school, when we’d go to one kid’s house to play cops and robbers and another kid’s house to play cowboys and Indians, they’d come to my house to put on a show. We had a corner house with a courtyard, and the folks would put out blankets on the ground and watch. I remember producing shows there for three or four seasons. And of course later there were many big college productions.

The headliner on this show was the Ames Brothers.

My daddy was concerned about my career, and so he ran a Dun & Bradstreet report on them, and they looked OK. All of the rest of the acts were local. I think the Ames Brothers were trying to find themselves after their star, Ed Ames, left to go solo. But we had great local acts. Paul Schmitt was musical director, and he was incredible. Mildred Jones was divine. She was a beautiful, great black singer who was very versatile. I used her in almost every scene. Mary Helen Kuhne was a great singer with great range. Sidney Rojo was wonderful and starred in a local production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” And there was a terrific young Mexican singer, Johnny Ballad, who just came out and sang and played guitar. But there’s a finish to this story. I don’t remember full houses. And I never got paid.

So this helped prepare you for the realities of showbiz when you left for New York?

My father told me he couldn’t understand why I would want to leave Texas, because Texas had everything. I told him he was right except for one thing. Texas didn’t have Broadway. So he sent me off with a bag of sandwiches and a checkbook.

Did the sandwiches keep you from the starvation most young actors and dancers face in the Big Apple?

On my first day, my pal told me to go down and get a Variety and look in the back at the auditions. I saw they needed a boy dancer-singer for the touring company of “Irma La Douce,” which was starring Genevieve. So I auditioned and got the job. The show was closing on Broadway, and it was going out for 22 weeks on the road. It was 17 boys and Genevieve. She was wonderful. She cut her own hair, and she wound up cutting my hair for me.

That sounds like a crash course in show business.

I learned everything and not just about show business! And I’m still learning.

More Legit

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “When I read a script, it processes in my head like a [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content