What: The Tony Bennett Show
Where: Royal Theatre
Rating: Five stars (out of five)
MICHAEL D. REID
When you're 86 and still belting out tunes you popularized decades ago, the question "How does he do it?" is inevitable.
The answer: With style, grace and professionalism, as Tony Bennett demonstrated big time last night when he turned the Royal Theatre into a high-end cocktail lounge. The moment he sauntered onstage, looking dapper in a white jacket, blue shirt and tie, the iconic crooner got the first of several standing ovations from an adoring crowd.
It was a brisk, breezy trip down memory lane a night to remember teeming with golden oldies, which also described many in the audience.
Following a lively 20-minute opening set by his daughter Antonia, Bennett got down to business, captivating an appreciative crowd to whom he frequently blew kisses.
The living legend proved time and again he's still got it as he delivered two dozen jazz standards and showtunes from the American songbook, many eliciting audible thrills of recognition.
He began his 75-minute set with a respectable rendition of Watch What Happens, but it wasn't until he launched into a swinging take on Cole Porter's From This Moment On that he really started cooking.
Bennett got the joint jumping at one point, turning the Royal into a revival house while scat singing on Sing You Sinners. He evoked laughter and applause with a wink and a twirl punctuating "Ho, ho, ho, who's got the last laugh now?" from They All Laughed; and many fans could be heard singing along during his beautiful interpretation of The Way You Look Tonight.
Bennett's trademark emphasis on the lyric was amply evident. His ability to imbue a song with emotion was particularly obvious during his dramatic reading of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the melancholic Harry Warren classic.
If his vocal cords aren't as flexible as they once were his voice has grown thinner and grainier the raspy-voiced singer used that to his advantage. His impeccable pitch and phrasing were wonders to behold, notably during his achingly tender interpretation of Maybe This Time, from Cabaret, that also featured a dazzling solo by Lee Musiker, the pianist who led his remarkably tight and understated jazz quartet
The top-shelf combo was consistently in sync with the crooner's moods from the soaring highs of his punchy up-tempo rendition of the Gershwin classic I Got Rhythm, to the muted potency of ballads such as Shadow of Your Smile.
Other richly textured highlights included his abridged versions of Just in Time, Steppin' Out With My Baby, The Best Is Yet to Come and Who Cares?, George and Ira Gershwin's 1930s classic he noted couldn't be more timely as he emphasized lyrics such as "I am not concerned with stocks and bonds I've been burned with ... I love you, and you love me."
He elicited yet another of a mounting wave of applause when he sang his signature tune I Left My Heart in San Francisco with such freshness it was as if he was doing it for the first time.
Bennett's reputation as the elder statesman of cool cats was also intact during his spare onstage patter, as when he quipped he and Rosemary Clooney were "the first American Idols," or reminisced about how Hank Williams admonished him for ruining his song Cold, Cold Heart, after performing that country classic with panache.
Bennett also did Stephen Sondheim's Old Friends, a duet and soft shoe with his daughter, 38, whose opening set that included standards such as Embraceable You, You're Too Marvellous and a fine dramatic reading of Noel Coward's Sail Away, revealed a a pleasing, girlish voice and evidence she has been taught well.
By the time the concert ended with Bennett singing Fly Me to the Moon a cappella, with only some guitar accompaniment, his musical mastery had been reiterated. And when he musically emoted "let me sing forever more!" you wished that he would.
© Copyright 2013