Dance Beat: Following a Tune

Tommy-Tune_in redI’ve never had a true Bucket List — I tend to live in the present, which is all that matters for the dance that I have watched for 40-plus years. But when I was in my 20’s, living without Internet and with Pittsburgh dance still in its infancy, I frequently had to turn to movies and Broadway to satisfy my thirst for movement.

Along the way, I discovered Tommy Tune, a lanky Ambrose Kemper in Gene Kelly’s Hello Dolly film in 1969. Subsequently I started hearing about him and seeing his work in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1980, director and choreographer), then A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (1980, director and choreographer) and Nine (1982, director).

By then I was smitten with his talent and used to periodically joke that one day I’d like to dance with Tommy Tune — I had learned that he was 6’6″ and I was nearly 6′ myself. When I saw him in My One and Only (1983, performer and choreographer), that sealed the deal.

He went on to become a Broadway legend and I enjoyed seeing his productions and catching glimpses of him over the years, being that he was a director, song-and-dance-man and author as well.

Then I saw that he was coming to Pittsburgh as part of the Cultural Trust’s Cabaret series, a solo evening he called — so appropriately — Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales.

It was a dream come true. He emerged, looking fabulous in a royal blue suit, silver tap shoes, silverish hair perfectly coiffed and a sincere, Texas-style grin that  could make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. Yes, it was “Too Darned Hot.”

Like most cabaret shows, this was an intimate look inside the life of a truly talented and influential Broadway performer. It took a while for his voice to warm-up, but the authentic power of his personality was the prime reason for coming and he delivered that.

There was an ease and an elegance to the song selections, symbolized by Let’s Take It Nice and Easy to You’ve Gotta Have Heart and I’m Old Fashioned.

Tommy could do a ton of name-dropping. Fred Astaire. Salvador Dali. The sophisticated Honi Coles, probably my favorite segment of the show.

And there was a list of leading ladies, from Chita Rivera and Barbra Streisand to Drew Barrymore and Twiggy (The Boyfriend and My One and Only). One leading lady was in the audience, Niki Harris, the former Barbara Harris of West Mifflin and best known for her work in Tommy’s A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine as those outstanding dancing legs.

Among other shows, she went on to perform in and more in Tommy’s My One and Only (1983 – Dance Captain); Grand Hotel (1989 – Assistant Choreographer, Dance Captain); The Best Little Whorehouse goes Public (1994 – Swing, Dance Captain, Associate Choreographer).

They had a few private moments backstage, but I waited around for his Meet and Greet in the Backstage Bar. Sure enough, I got to meet Tommy and tell my story. And like a perfect gentleman that he is, we did a spontaneous little routine.

Sigh…and thank you.


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