Chicago Theatre Review
A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett
I Left My Heart – Mercury Theatre
Ageless American musical icon Tony Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto 91 years ago, in Queens, New York, has been a best-selling singer most of his life. Originally discovered by Pearl Bailey performing at that time as Joe Bari, the crooner later changed his name to Tony Bennett, under the advice of Bob Hope. He soon joined Hope’s on-the-road variety shows, and he’s been singing every since.
Bennett has sung with the likes of Mitch Miller, Count Basie, and even contemporary singers, such as k.d. Lang and Lady Gaga. Warned not to imitate other popular singers, such as Frank Sinatra, Bennett has recorded more than 70 albums and earned 19 Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. His musical style is his very own, simply a classic way with a song. Bennett’s music includes the songs of all the great composers, such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini, Michel LeGrand, Jule Styne, Comden & Green and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, just to name a few.
David Grapes and Todd Olsen, the team that created “My Way: a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” have written this recognition to Mr. Bennett, the man and his music. Much in the style of countless other revues that feature famous composing teams and popular singers, this concert presents three talented singers who offer a little select background information and some interesting bon mots about Tony Bennett and his life. But the best part of this cabaret performance is, of course, the delectable music.
Nicely staged by Kevin Bellie, with excellent musical direction by Linda Madonia (who also accompanies on piano, with Ryan Hobbs on trumpet, Dan Kristin on bass and Lindsay Williams on percussion), an evening of almost three dozen of Tony Bennett’s songs are professionally presented by Robert Hunt, Evan Tyrone Martin and Jim DeSelm. These fine vocalists bring added richness and fluidity to a varied range of music, sometimes performing solo, at other times uniting in the finest choral blending.
Most of the songs will ignite fond memories for audiences of a certain age, or will simply be recognizable to patrons familiar with the Tin Pan Alley songbook. The show opens with the lively “Steppin Out With My Baby,” then continues with “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” Then there’s the haunting “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” the gorgeous “Stranger in Paradise” and the promise that “The Best is Yet to Come.” We’re treated to the famous “Lullaby of Broadway,” the staccato “I Got Rhythm,” the velvety smooth “Night and Day” and a devilish “That Old Black Magic.”
Audiences will swoon to the stylings of “Embraceable You,” “It’s Wonderful,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” as well reliving the shining cinematic hit tunes from great films: “Love Story (Where Do I Begin),” “Puttin on the Ritz,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the romantic classic, “As Time Goes By.” The trio finally treat us to “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life,” “Rags to Riches” and, of course, Bennett’s signature ballad, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
The evening ends with beautiful musical advice for everyone to “Make Someone Happy.” The lights slowly fade on a bare stage, festooned only with a swag of stylishly draped crimson curtains, and accented simply by the talented musical combo and the gifted performers, themselves. Such a charming, romantic winter evening of Tony Bennett’s music reminds us that, although it might feel far away, “You Must Believe in Spring.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 27-March 5 by Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-325-1700 or by going to www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.