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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Tommy Tune's Taps, Tunes, and Tall Tales and
Wesla Whitfield at the Rrazz Room

Also see Richard's review of Another Way Home

The irrepressible Tommy Tune came to the Venetian Room of the Hotel Fairmont, along with his pianist of 37 years Michael Biagi, to give a knockout performance before a capacity crowd on Sunday, November 11. His new show called Tap, Tunes and Tall Tales moved on to Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York on November 18th for a six day stay. Next, he will take the gig on the road.

There was plenty to enjoy in Tune's new show. The fact that at age 73, Tommy Tune is still doing what he likes is a testament to his talent and showmanship. He says that Gene Kelly gave him the best advice he ever got when filming Hello, Dolly! at Fox: "dance better." He showed those great moves in tap dancing, telling the audience, "This is the tiniest stage I have ever danced on." Tune still has that striking voice, as he sang songs by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Leiber & Stoller, and Larry Grossman.

Tommy Tune entered the stage dressed in a bright red suit, going immediately into Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's ragtime "I've Got Them Feeling Too Good Today Blues" and then went into a little time step on the tiny stage. He followed up with his striking vocal cords on Larry Grossman and Buz Kohan's "I Love It." During the 60-minute performance he did single, double and triple time steps.

The legendary crooner, who has performed for 50 years and has nine Tony Awards to his credit, told stories of growing up in Wichita Falls and Houston, Texas, and of his first Broadway audition singing "You Gotta Have Heart" from Damn Yankees. He talked about breaking one foot and then the other during his shows. He asked his mentor and idol Carol Channing, who happened to be in the audience, for her advice and encouragement. She replied, "Perhaps that's God's way of giving you symmetry."

The audience was particularly moved when he told the story about the last time he and Charles "Honi" Coles appeared on stage together in My One and Only. Tommy and Honi had a scene together dancing soft shoe that brought thunderous applause from the audience every night of the run. While they were appearing on the road in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Honi had a stoke on stage in the middle of this scene. He couldn't speak but he was able to do the dance duet with Tune one last time before being taken off. Tommy Tune said, "he never lost a step; his dancer body was all there even though his speech was gone." Tune talked about his appearance behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow where the audience clapped in unison and stomped their feet when he left the stage. There were many stories like this, and the transitions of his life from one stage to next were smoothly depicted.

Tommy Tune also sang songs from his Broadway show My One and Only. He never mentioned his sexuality but alluded to a long relationship that broke up by poignantly singing "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face." His rendition of Cole Porter's "Please Don't Monkey With Broadway" rocked. The overall theme of his love of performing and giving joy to audiences these many years came across loud and clear.

Coming up next for the Bay Area Cabaret is Peter Gallagher on December 9th, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley on February 17, 2013, Elaine Paige on March 1, and singer/actress Nellie McKay with San Francisco's Grammy Award winning a capella male chorus Chanticleer on March 23. All will be presented in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel. For more information, visit www.bayareacabaret.org or call City Box Office 415-392-4400.


San Francisco's treasure, Wesla Whitfield, along with the Mike Greensill Trio, returned to the Rrazz Room for a week, ending November 17th. This latest show called Lucky to Be Me is a master class in song interpretation, where the supreme diva sings a retrospective of songs from her recording career (she has recorded 23 albums over the years). During the one hour show I was charmed, entertained and moved. Delivering musical wisdom for this gig were her husband and pianist Mike Greensill, John Wiitala on bass, and Vince Lateano on drums.

The evening was a no-nonsense hour with just a little talk between her 10 songs; just listening to her phrasing of each selection was a pleasure. I have been reviewing this legendary singer for over 10 years and each year she gets better. She has a heartwarming voice, and her face and motions replicate the song's mood, whether it's a delightful ditty or a passionate ballad.

The show opened with the Mike Greensill Trio doing a swinging arrangement of "Funk on Deep Freeze" followed by Wesla coming onto the stage to sing "I've Heard That Song Before" with her smooth and mellow voice. She segued into a terrific version of "There No Business Like Show Business" with a beautiful wording of the Irving Berlin song. "Pure Imagination/Imagine" was enchanting as was "Teach Me Tonight." She said "the next song I am going to sing is usually sung by a man" and then went into a beautiful arrangement of the Gershwins' "It Ain't Necessarily So" with great solo parts for John Wiitala on bass and Vince Lateano on drums. Mike Greensill joined in on an engaging duet with his wife on "The Can't Take That Away From Me." The diva also took on songs like "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" and "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and made them her own.

Singer Wesla Whitfield played the Rrrazz Room from November 11 through November 21st. For an upcoming schedule of the premiere nightclub in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco, visit www.thwrrazzrom.com or call 415-394-1189.

- Richard Connema



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