Broadway legend Tommy Tune comes to Teatro ZinZanni
By Katherine Luck
Journal Media Group Writer
Tommy Tune, a nine-time Tony Award winner and Broadway star, was stumped when asked to explain the plot of the latest Teatro ZinZanni show, Bonsoir Liliane!, which he had come to Seattle to direct.
“This is my 50th year in show business. … It’s a whole new experience for me, working for this theater. Teatro ‘ZinZany,’ I call it. It breaks all the rules I’ve accumulated throughout my career,” he said. “Their plots are indecipherable. They go one way and drop them somewhere else. And nobody cares!”
From what Tune can make out, the three-and-a-half-hour cirque, comedy and cabaret show hopscotches through the career and life of another musical theater legend, Liliane Montevecchi. Born in Paris, she began her four-decade career as a prima ballerina at age 18. She later appeared in movies with Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and Fred Astaire, and starred in musicals such as Grand Hotel, Gigi and Hello Dolly.
“We travel from Seattle to Moscow by train — don’t ask questions. We visit the places Liliane has performed, then we go to Paris, where she had her debut at the Folies Bergère,” he explained. The show passes through various eras of Parisian history, there’s a scene under a dock in Marseilles, the action swings over to Istanbul, “then we end up in Bombay, where we do the ‘Bollywood hustle.’ We may have a new dance craze,” he concluded.
This kind of “zany” but thrilling illogic is typical of the company.
Teatro ZinZanni originally launched in 1998 as a show intended to run just for the holiday season. Instead, the production continued, sold out, for 14 months. Today it’s a constantly changing dinner theater show that is performed above, around and among the audience as they enjoy a five-course meal created by Northwest chef Tom Douglas, with an expansion show in San Francisco.
Bonsoir Liliane! is Tune’s first directing job at the 13-year-old independent arts nonprofit. The upcoming show features a diverse cast of professional performers, including an 80-year-old ex-ballerina, a 6-foot-6-inch Swedish cabaret performer and “heartbreaker from way back,” and three blond close-harmony singers. Balls are juggled, a unicycle is ridden and foreign languages abound.
“When do you get to do that? When in my career have I ever had this experience?” Tune enthused. “We have the music, and the lighting, and the petals that fall. The show is such a wonderful treat. It’s such a ‘Seattle show.’ You can’t see a show like this in New York.”
The highlight of the evening is, unquestionably, Liliane Montevecchi herself. In what Tune calls “a charming little moment,” she will take part in a puppet show — yes, a puppet show — during which she sings “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. She will also perform “This is New” from Lady in the Dark by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, along with “Folies Bergere” from the musical Nine, the 1982 Broadway hit directed by Tune that put her on the map and garnered a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her and a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for him.
“We’re just using the most interesting playlist,” Tune said. “The songs we’re using are just all over the map, which is kind of the theme of the show.”
Pacific Northwest Ballet favorite Ariana Lallone will dance on an elevated stage, comedian Kevin Kent will get the crowd laughing, and Ukrainian contortionist Vita Radionova will twist herself into daunting knots.
But wait — there’s more.
“We have surprises, but if I talk about them, they won’t be surprises, will they? Liliane ends up on the moon at one point. … It’s sort of ‘anything goes as long as it works,’” he laughed. “It’s really Liliane’s show. That’s all that matters.”
The only person to win Tony Awards in the same categories in consecutive years, and the first to win in four different categories, Tune made his Broadway debut in 1965 in Baker Street. A native Texan, he became a Broadway director and choreographer in 1978, fittingly enough, with the original production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
In addition to their first — and highly successful — collaboration on Nine, “I’ve worked with Liliane many times,” said Tune. She performed at Teatro ZinZanni in previous productions as “Madame ZinZanni,” and repeatedly urged the company to hire him. Tune had never been available before now.
It may be both the first and last time they work together at Teatro ZinZanni, however, as Montevecchi is calling Bonsoir Liliane! her “farewell show.” Tune is not quite convinced that she’ll really be able to give up the stage for good.
“Liliane never wastes a second,” he said “She’s had an extraordinary career.”
The show has been fun, Tune added, but it’s been hard work for all involved. “We’ve been working on it for about six months,” he said. “I’m asking a lot of everyone.”
Following the opening night of Bonsoir Liliane! on Sept. 1, Tune is scheduled to head down to the University of Miami in October to debut a new musical he’s creating: Forever 54. It’s about the magic and the myth of the infamous 1970s New York City disco, Studio 54. “Everybody — when they get real and they admit it — they love disco music,” he said.
He’s also currently touring his one-man show, Steps in Time, in which he sings and dances his way through the highlights of his half-century musical career.
“My plate is pretty full, isn’t it? The stars aligned just right to allow me to do all this,” he said.
With that, he had to head back to rehearsals. The show was set to open in just 12 days, it was 5:15 on a Friday night, and he is 72 years old. There was no time to waste.
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