HE FOUND HIS HEART
IN SAN FRANCISCO (AND MORE)
I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett totally earns its title. Created in 2005 by David Grapes and Todd Olson, this warmly wrought and richly arranged tribute to a terrific troubadour chronicles a career that, at 90, is far from over. (Bennett plays Chicago’s Ravinia Festival every summer.) Like the “Three Tenors” who created a greater whole than their parts, a trio of talents in their own right—Jim Deselm, Robert Hunt, and Evan Tyrone Martin—recreate Bennett’s sounds from all sides and in all moods, most enthralling in their harmonies and rhythms both danced and sung. “The Good Life” isn’t just a song here but a promissory note.
Now playing Chicago’s Mercury Theater in a song-selling staging by Kevin Bellie, I Left My Heart celebrates the constant star who Frank Sinatra called “the greatest singer in the world.” Bennett, an ever evolving performer, nonetheless realized that just being himself was different enough. Beginning in the 40s with a boost from Bob Hope (who Americanized his name from Antonio Benedetto), the great crooner became an early jazz legend, recording with Count Basie, Stan Getz and Bill Evans, moving on to an unparalleled repertory of film ballads, torch songs, jukebox favorites and a famous appearance on MTV Unplugged that won him hordes of younger fans. He has garnered 17 Grammy Awards and at one point had 24 songs in the Top 40. Last November, Bennett sang a live duet with Miss Piggy at the Macy’s Parade and headlined in his own 90th birthday bash on NBC. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on him.
Backed by a hot four-person combo (music director Linda Madonia on piano, Ryan Hobbs on trumpet, Dan Kristin playing bass and Lindsay Williams on percussion), the Mercury threesome, sporting red carnations on “Rat Pack” suits, are smart enough to know it takes three singers to equal one Bennett. Their beautifully blended versions of “Rags to Riches,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Put on a Happy Face” and Bennett’s signature favorite “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” sweetly and strongly sum up four decades of magnificent music-making.
The program is a generous outpouring of numbers that Bennett turned into classics and stamped with style. Gifts that Bennett glorified, they’re by the likes of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Al Dubin, Harry Warren, and Henry Mancini. Martin brings a glorious baritone to plumb the tender depths of “As Time Goes By.” Hunt brings snazzy class and smooth charm to the jaunty “Steppin’ Out with My Baby.” Dancing up several small storms, Deselm handles the heartbreak in every note he lifts or lyric he explores.
33 Bennett standards set just that, a level of excellence that does mean a thing since they all have that swing. Adding anecdotes along the way, juicy tales to jump start the songs, Bellie’s serenaders rise, over and over, to their 90-minute occasion. This “singer in love with singing” gets his dynamic due.
photos by Brett Beiner
I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett
Mercury Theater Chicago
3745 North Southport Avenue
Wed at 7:30; Thurs at 3 and 7:30;
Fri at 8; Sat at 3 and 8; Sun at 3 and 7:30
ends on March 5, 2017
for tickets, call 773.325.1700 or visit Mercury Theater
for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago