Stackner Cabaret Sings Six Decades of Tony Bennett Romance
Tony Bennett’s successful career spans six, yes, six decades, with his first number one hit “Because of You” arriving in 1951. At age 87, Bennett scheduled concerts through February 2014, so his “Old Black Magic,” continually conjures new fans. The Milwaukee Rep celebrates the legendary performer, the winner of 17 Grammy Awards, Two Emmy Awards and the NEA Jazz Master, in the musical revue “If Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett.”
A trio of male singers give Bennett’s immense musical oeuvre a sensual croon: the younger, Andrew McMath, a handsome version recalling Canadian Michael Buble, the soulful Rob Tucker, and a primal Eric John Mahlum, all debuting with the The Rep’s Stackner. Accompanying the magnetic trio was Milwaukee’s renowned Richard Carsey, who mastered the center stage baby grand piano keys with debonair flair as Muscial Director. And sometimes Carsey adds his versatile style to the production with a piano solo, or by participating in the light-hearted, yet timeless melodies.
On opening night, those first moments proved to be tentative in several numbers while everyone enjoyed the intimacy of the Cabaret, reliving memories from the music the audience could mouth the lyrics to. Individual songs are interspersed with notations and remembrances from Bennett’s life, interesting while incidental to the production created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, with Olson directing the Rep’s performances in Milwaukee.
While the revue’s sets are themed, the first act’s Crazy Rhythm collection proved highly entertaining with McMath tap dancing his way into the audience’s heart during “Lullaby of Broadway.” In this particular set, each performer on stage surrounded the piano playing percussion, along with Carsey slamming the keyboard cover, to intensify the energy inherent in the beat so the audience could sway in their seats. Or sing silently along.
“I Left My Heart” reminds people that Bennett performs as “A Singer in Love with Singing,” an entertainer who believes, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” In the second act, the foursome rolled up their sleeves and hit their stride, singing their hearts out in tribute to Tony Bennett. The Quiet Set proved to be poignant, with the poetic “You Must Believe in Spring,” and Tucker showcased in the tender “A Child Is Born.”
In the romantic “Rags to Riches,” the three used a castanet, wooden sticks and bongo drums in a mariachi flavored number before performing Bennett’s signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A song he performed when he rediscovered the music in an old drawer and stuck into his suitcase, the lyrics an alltime classic toast to the city by the bay.
And while the performance ends with the encore “Make Someone Happy,” the audience was indeed ecstatic, they could have applauded and listened all night. Thinking of Bennett as the proverbial forever “Young at Heart,’ with his additional success exhibiting under the name of the painter Bendetto, as founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, and a tireless charity performer christened with the nickname Tony Benefit.
Whether Bennett bases his music in Broadway, film, jazz, pop culture, or the American songbook, these lyrics and music remain fresh, revisiting the eternal glory of love and romance, emotions harder to discern in the 21st century, although continually longed for. The Rep’s engaging, energetic and polished production will move the heart to rediscover that essence, the excitement of romance, because Tony Bennett will only be more beloved as he might sing, “As Time Goes By.”
The Milwaukee Rep performs "A Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett" to begin their 60th Anniversary season in the Stackner Cabaret at the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through October 20. For information and tickets please call 414.224.9490 or click the link to the left. by Peggy Sue Dunigan