If Tommy Tune could wave a magic scepter, Broadway would be transformed from its currently bedraggled state into an immaculate thoroughfare of diamond-studded glamour and endless high spirits. The years would melt away, and names like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Fred Astaire and Ray Bolger would blaze on every marquee. To step into a theater would be to enter a Busby Berkeley dream world of top hats, tap shoes and gushing Broadway melodies.
That is the dream that the performer, director and choreographer captures only fleetingly in "Tommy Tune Tonite!," the handsomely mounted song and dance show he has brought to the Gershwin Theater for a limited engagement through Sunday. It is a world in which it is possible to "Tap Your Troubles Away," as the show's opening Jerry Herman song suggests. Or where "Everything Old Is New Again," as proclaims the Peter Allen-Carole Bayer Sager number that serves as one of the program's thematic threads.
The show, a self-described "song and dance act," in which Mr. Tune performs with a 26-piece orchestra and two sidekicks, Robert Fowler and Frantz Hall, is essentially a deluxe cabaret turn proportioned for Broadway. As directed by Jeff Calhoun, it meanders pleasantly along for 90 intermissionless minutes without going anywhere in particular and without building a big charge of energy. Together the designer, Tony Walton, and the lighting designers, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, have given Mr. Tune a spacious, tastefully glitzy environment fronting the bandstand in which to cavort.
Between the song and dance numbers, Mr. Tune tells his own story of growing up in Houston and of planning to be a ballet dancer until his unusual height (he is 6 feet 6 inches or "5-18," as he puts it) made a ballet career improbable.
The show's emotional core is Mr. Tune's reminiscence of coming to New York in the 1960's and auditioning at Variety Arts Theater, a rehearsal studio in the heart of the theater district. On any given day, he recalls, you might find the choreographers Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse and Gower Champion each working on a different project on a different floor of the building. Here is where he had his first New York audition, singing eight bars from the "Damn Yankees" hit "Heart." And here is where he also first met Mr. Bennett, who became a close friend and mentor and who later cast him in "Seesaw," the 1973 show that won him the first of nine Tony Awards.
For Mr. Tune, the demise of Variety Arts, which burned down in the 1970's, is synonymous with the sad decline of Broadway. His nostalgia for the theater leads to the show's most touching moment, in which he delivers a formal roll call of his Broadway colleagues who have died, many from AIDS.
This elegy is the only somber moment in a program that is otherwise devoted to recapturing the old-time show business spirit that brought Mr. Tune to New York. There are affectionate tributes to both Bolger and Astaire, including an audience sing-along of "Once in Love With Amy."
As much as Mr. Tune admires Astaire, his style of movement is not much like his idol's. Swooping about the stage, he looks less like a debonair man-about-town than a willowy cowboy whose elbows and shoulders are at faintly comic odds with his gliding legs. His finest dancing moment is an exquisite "Taking a Chance on Love," in which his tapping feet -- and not his voice -- sing the melody, with subtle embellishment.
Mr. Tune has always regarded his own gangling physique with whimsical amusement. That playfulness informs two of his best numbers with Mr. Fowler and Mr. Hall. One involves a microphone stand that becomes a ballet barre. In the other, Mr. Tune becomes even taller than he is, as he appears behind a curtain under which impossibly long legs assume anatomically impossible positions. In another vaudevillian turn, his sidekicks become student showoffs who get carried away trying to outshine their teacher.
If the show's dancing offers an engaging overview of Mr. Tune's terpsichorean bag of tricks, musically "Tommy Tune Tonite!" never takes off. Mr. Tune is a passable theatrical singer who continually aspires to the lightness and polish of Astaire but continually falls short. His voice isn't especially mellifluous, and when he pushes it out the tone becomes metallic; nor does the rhythmic acuity that informs his dancing extend to his singing. Underscoring his vocal shortcomings is the failure of his voice to match the punch and vivacity of the band's brass-heavy arrangements.
But even though the star will never be Astaire, Bolger and Carol Channing (whom he briefly impersonates) rolled into one show-stopping package, "Tommy Tune Tonite!" breathes an air of fresh-faced sweetness and enthusiasm that feels genuine. Watching Mr. Tune live out his Broadway dream, some of the wild exhilaration of a young Texan who has conquered the Emerald City comes through. As he taps his way across the stage of the Gershwin in diamond-studded shoes, the notion that you can tap your troubles away seems briefly to be more than just a quaint show-business conceit. Here is someone doing just that, right here and now.