If you know anything about Broadway musicals, you know one staged by Tommy Tune is worth whistling about. But even though the Tony Award-winning actor, director and choreographer, known for such shows as Nine and My One and Only, has temporarily stepped away from Broadway, he’s busier than ever.
This month, he is debuting a new one-man cabaret show called Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales, a retrospective of his five-decade career in show business, which will play the Venetian Room in San Francisco on November 11 and Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York on November 18, 25 and 26. In between preparing for these gigs, he took time to chat with TheaterMania about a variety of other new projects, including filming Netflix’s Arrested Development, his upcoming role as Cap’n Andy in Show Boat at the Houston Grand Opera, and the future of the musical 54 Forever.
You’ll be performing again in New York, where you’ve been designated a Living Landmark. Is that a strange title to carry around?
Well, you’re very honored, but then it makes you feel so ancient. A landmark! It’s nice because the people say: “There goes a Living Landmark!” I always say: “Watch out for the pigeons!
Did you enjoy filming Arrested Development?
Yes, and I just got the call to find dates to do more. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Mitch Hurwitz, the show runner, is just incredible. We just had a lovefest.
Were you always a big fan of the TV show?
I’d never seen the show before they called me, so I’m there, waiting in my trailer to shoot, and I said, “You know, it would really help me if I could watch some of it.” So they scared up the very first episode and it was really amazing. It’s so out there and so surprising.
Are you ready to play Cap’n Andy in Show Boat?
I am finding my way. He is a showman and what I do is much the same. When I go out with my show or with the Manhattan Rhythm Kings and we perform all over the country together, we pack up our bags, we go out, we set up our show, we do our show, and then we move on to the next town. That’s what Andy is doin’ — except he’s moving the theater with him down the Mississippi. He has to keep his family all together, deal with the problems with each location, get the crowd in, do the interviews. So, there’s actually a lot for me to relate to.
Can we expect something a little different from your portrayal?
While I was filming Arrested Development, I told Mitch that I was getting ready to go do Show Boat and that I’m going to play Cap’n Andy. And then I said to him, “You know, I’ve done Show Boat lots of times. I’ve directed it and I’ve played Frank, but I would never cast me as Cap’n Andy. And he said, “Well, maybe Cap’n Andy drinks.” Suddenly, just that phrase, “maybe Cap’n Andy drinks”opened up a whole new world. I’m not sure I’ll let the audience know that, but I think he probably nips to get through it with his wife Parthy Ann. I mean, she’s such a bitch, so he might need to have a little tipple before he goes to rehearsal. (Laughs.)
Sliding back into your director’s chair, have you been doing any work on 54 Forever, which is about the history of Studio 54?
Well, I can’t find the right place to put it on. It simply doesn’t belong in a proscenium theater. It’s performed on a 43-foot-long runway with raised seating on both sides so you can look down on it. That was the space I had down in Florida and I loved working in that style. It’s sort of like a fashion show, which is so right for that time. But finding real estate in New York is difficult. We found a place that might work in Los Angeles. So we’re in the business of trying to figure that out now. Meanwhile, the show is sitting there, getting better, marinating in my brain.