Tony Bennett: An American Classic (2006 TV Special)
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Things start on a high note with Bennett in an empty theater singing Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" joined by a mellifluous-sounding Barbra Streisand, his most accomplished partner for the evening. In a jazz nightclub setting, he is surrounded by the acrobatic Tony Bennett Dancers and swings though "Sing, You Sinners" with a confident John Legend. In a recording booth at Columbia Studios, Bennett sings his first hit, "Because of You" accompanied by smoky vocals from k.d. lang and a languorous trumpet solo by Chris Botti. Visually, my favorite part of the program is the black-and-white recreation of the 1960's-style variety show complete with dancers in sailor tops and Capri pants. In this segment, Diana Krall joins Bennett on a finger-snapping "The Best Is Yet to Come" followed by a sonorous version of "The Shadow of Your Smile" given a samba-accented makeover by Columbian rock singer Juanes.
The inevitable Vegas sequence features a bevy of feather-fanned showgirls. In this milieu, Bennett is joined by Elton John on a jaunty "Rags to Riches", by new-jack crooner Michael Bublé on a swinging "Just in Time" (whose Dean Martin-style behavior may rankle the more feminist-minded), and finally by a surprisingly stationary Stevie Wonder leaning heavily on his melisma on his own "For Once in My Life" (which includes his trademark harmonica interlude). To show his popularity with the current crop of chart-toppers, Bennett is joined by a retro-styled Christina Aguilera and the dancers in full Fosse mode on "Steppin' Out". It all ends appropriately with a shimmering solo of Bennett's signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco".
Providing the spoken interludes between the performances are Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Robert DeNiro. At about 45 minutes in total, the extras on the DVD actually last longer than the special itself. They start with a 2 1/2-minute trailer and go right into footage of the dancers rehearsing their four production numbers. What follows is an extensive making-of featurette which features interviews with Marshall, choreographer John DeLuca and other key members of the creative staff interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage.
When I saw the name Rob Marshall on the credits of "Tony Bennett: An American Classic", I knew I was gonna have a lot of fun watching this TV special. Oscar-winners Dion Bebee (cinematography), Colleen Atwood (costume designer) and John Myhre (production designer) collaborated with Marshall on Chicago and/or Memoirs of a Geisha. The slick, visual splendor from those two movies are apparent in this special.
While the numerous musical duets were very entertaining and the little positive biographical anecdotes on Bennett's life were interesting, what did it for me was that the entire special hearkens back to when the three major TV networks used to produce numerous variety specials from the 50's through the mid-70's. Usually the entertainer (whose name would certainly be in the title of the special) would perform with numerous special guest stars and perform a proverbial duet or two, a few comedy bits, several dancers and a live studio audience. My personal favorite duet was an homage to TV variety specials with Bennett and Diana Krall.
I hope this special will be released on DVD. I believe this love letter to Tony Bennett deserves to be seen by a larger audience.
Update (December 20, 2006): The program has been released on DVD. Check out Amazon.com or other websites for information.
The dinner and Mr. Bennett's performance, with his own combo, were in the private conference area, with a limited number of tables, and all having a close view (the proceeds were more than fostered by the cost, which would have been worth twice the price). The show was outstanding, and the next day, he and his friend were in the dining area for Sunday brunch. A number of people got his autograph - we simply walked by and indicated how much we had enjoyed his performance.
What I recall vividly is how genuinely pleasant and gracious he was to everybody. His pianist and drummer had also sat-in with the house combo in the lounge, Saturday night after the performance, and were gracious and pleasant also - an indication of the atmosphere they share with the star performer.
So many prominent entertainers are so different off-stage from on-. However, this is one performer who is as nice with the public after the performance as his persona on-stage - something you don't forget.
This presentation, which was broadcast the other evening, was superb. I had intended to tape to entire hour, but must have hit the control wrong, because I got only the last 1/3 or so. Will pick-up the DVD first chance.
I particularly enjoyed the numbers with Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera and Michael Bublé, and thought every number was thoroughly enjoyable. In addition, the comments from prominent entertainers, such as Bruce Willis, Robert DeNiro and John Travolta, were brief, interesting and relevant. All the numbers were impeccably-produced. And, thankfully, unlike many of these type programs, numbers weren't interrupted or burdened with voice-overs.
At an age when many singers' voices have diminished, Tony's is as strong, perfect and enjoyable as ever. He's like those occasional athletes who seem to perform as well, or better, at an age when most of their contemporaries have either faded or retired.
A 10* presentation and performance in every aspect.