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Originally published August 31, 2011 at 1:33 PM | Page modified August 31, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Tommy Tune helps ZinZanni salute Liliane Montevecchi

Nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune, now in his 50th year of show business, is directing "Bonsoir Liliane!," Teatro ZinZanni's new show that salutes another veteran performer, Liliane Montevecchi.

Seattle Times theater critic

PERFORMANCE PREVIEW

'Bonsoir Liliane!'

Thursday-Jan. 29, Teatro ZinZanni, 222 Mercer St., Seattle; $50-$106 (206-802-0015 or http://dreams.zinzanni.org).
quotes Tune is great, and I'm glad to hear he's still active. He once worked with my late fath... Read more

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At 72, Tommy Tune has plenty of silver threads in his dark-brown hair. But to watch the lean, celebrated 6-foot-6-inch performer-director in action in a rehearsal at Teatro ZinZanni, or even chatting in a drab dressing room, is to be instantly invigorated.

Tommy Tune (yup, that's his given name) doesn't just talk, he regales and ignites. He won't sit still for long before jumping up to show you what he means. He shares stories, upbeat and generous, about the great artists he's worked with.

And this master dancer and ingenious showman displays as much unalloyed enthusiasm and zest for "Bonsoir Liliane!," the new ZinZanni show he's devising for old friend Liliane Montevecchi, as he does for the Broadway musicals that won him nine Tony Awards — including "Nine," "My One and Only" and "The Will Rogers Follies."

"This is my 50th year in show business," declares Tune, in the honeyed drawl that never lets you forget he's a Wichita Falls, Texas, native. "It's what I do. It's my life, and my life force."

In recent years, at separate times, he broke both feet (Carol Channing told him, "Tommy, you have achieved symmetry"). He piloted shows that didn't quite get to Broadway (i.e., "Busker Alley" and a stage version of the film "Easter Parade," seen at 5th Avenue Theatre).

But Tune has remained a dynamo. He logged 900 performances fronting a lavish MGM Hotel revue in Las Vegas, although, he notes, "I was trapped in a snowstorm one day and missed a show. And I never miss a show."

Lately he's been touring in an autobiographical solo piece, "Steps in Time" ("It's also the title of Fred Astaire's memoir — I don't think he'd mind"). And he heads off soon to the University of Miami to workshop a new musical about New York disco Studio 54, a trendy 1970s celebrity magnet that Tune often patronized (and where ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev once asked him to dance).

What made Tune wedge in the ZinZanni gig, saluting Liliane? "She's more than an entertainer; she's a muse. With her in the room, I get better."

The 80-year old Montevecchi, a French chanteuse and dancer, won a Tony herself as a co-star of the original "Nine" (a musical based on the Fellini film "8 ½") under Tune's direction.

Though Montevecchi is a ZinZanni veteran, Tune had to drop by Seattle now and again to see what One Reel's hit dinner-theater spectacle is all about.

"It's magic to me," he says. "The cabaret tent is an environment that alters the audience's consciousness. You aren't just watching, you're in the show."

On this morning, Tune is cheerfully guiding the cast of "Bonsoir Liliane!" (including ZinZanni regular Kevin Kent, French comedy-acrobatic team Les Petits Freres, and former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Ariana Lallone) through an opening number that's still a work in progress.

The show employs a time-travel train motif to revisit colorful stops in the career of Montevecchi, a tiny, chic woman in a jaunty red cap and black rehearsal duds.

Notes Tune, "She's done so much, starting as a ballet dancer. She was in the movie 'Daddy Long Legs,' starred in the Folies Bergère and 'Hello Dolly' in France."

He adds admiringly, "I've never seen Liliane waste a moment of her precious life. She's all about moving forward to the new thing, the next moment."

In addition to distilling her career "through the smoke of time," Tune promises such ZinZanni ingredients as "sensational skill acts, comedy high jinks, different kinds of music. And more dancing than they've ever had. This show is one big choreography."

Tune grabs a moment to introduce a blond, lanky younger cast member, Tobias Larrson, who (amazingly) is also 6-foot-6. "They call him the Swedish Tommy Tune!" he reports joyfully.

You see the physical resemblance. But you know there's only one Tommy Tune.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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