Highly Recommended ***** Music is special! When many of us are “down and out”, we can change our mood by listening to music, which will soothe the soul. When we think of great music, we also think of great performers who made that music a part of our lives. To many, that singer is Frank Sinatra (who by the way is featured in a show that will open soon in Munster), but one of the greats, would have to be Tony Bennett, who at the age of 90, is still strong and still recording, singing and reaching out to capture new audiences (YOUNG audiences!!!).
It is only fitting that the Mercury Theater Chicago has relaxed its regular musical theater format, to bring a special show to its stage. The show is an 85 minute tribute to Mr. Tony Bennett, called aptly “I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett”. This 90- year- old crooner is and has always been a man in love with singing. I was fortunate in my youth, in the summer of 1960 to get to know this man at Music Theater in Highland Park. Herb Rogers brought me on as what was called an “apprentice” ( long before our new President developed a TV show) and my job, in the early part of the summer of 1960 was to be Mr. Bennett’s driver and attempt to teach him how to be an actor. I had done high school plays and one that I had done several times was “Guys and Dolls”. Mr. Bennett was brought in to play Sky Masterson (versus Ray Raynor as Nathan) in the summer production that would begin the 1960 season in Highland Park. Trouble was; Mr. Bennett could not act and had never done so. My three plus weeks as his tag-along, were exciting as well as challenging. He was (and I imagine still) cares about those who listen to him. The Jewish word used to describe a man like him is “Mensch”. He definitely is that!
Back to this brilliant entertainment piece that is now on the stage at The Mercury Theater, beautifully directed by Kevin Bellie, who also handled the movement (choreography) and with superb musical direction by Linda Madonia. The work was created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with specialized musical arrangements by Vince di Mura and uses three different male voices to bring the myriad of songs performed and immortalized by Bennett to life. The three, very talented singers, Robert Hunt, Evan Tyrone Martin and the amazing Jim Deselm (what an extraordinary vocal range this man has), never attempt to imitate the great Mr. Bennett. Instead they are there, on the stage of the Mercury to pay tribute and homage to “the man”, and happily, I can say, they do so with style and grace.
“I Left My Heart” is filled with the music that Bennett brought to the public, in all of the periods that spanned his 40 plus years of bringing quality music to audiences. The 85 minute show takes us through the periods in his life/career, the music that he did , not only pop, but the jazz years, the motion picture themes, the Broadway tunes , and sprinkled through the songs (ones that the older audience members recall with great love) are little anecdotes and tidbits about his life and his music. The four piece jazz band backing them up is amazingly filled with talent that is as close as one can get to the best of the best jazz clubs in any major city. Ryan Hobbs on the trumpet is worth the price of the ticket, Dan Kristing at the bass is powerful, Lindsay Williams on the drums will excite and delight you and Ms Madonia has magical fingers at the keyboards. This show is one that might be a permanent fixture in town if they can find a home!
These three VERY talented singers take us through the phases of Tony Bennett in such a way, that even those unfamiliar with this special singer will find themselves wanting to know and hear even more. They take us through the different era of his career spanning a large number of years (remember, Mr. Bennett just celebrated his 90th birthday last year). Songs that are remembered such as “Rags to Riches”, “Put On A Happy Face”, “The Good Life”, “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “Rain or Come Shine”, “Steppin’ Out”, “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “Puttin on The Ritz” ( a little different from he way Mel Brooks, re-penned it in “Young Frankenstein”), “Night and Day “and many more, including the song associated with Tony “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, bringing people to their feet!
If you enjoy the music of Mr Bennett (or for that matter, the music of the times), “I Left My Heart” is a show you will want to make sure you see. It will be on the stage of the Mercury Theater Chicago (the perfect intimate space for a show like this) through March 5th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $30- $65 ( a clear bargain for entertainment this special) and can be purchased at the box office (located at 3745 N. Southport Ave.) by calling 773-325-1700 or online at . There are scads of eating spots on the street and the area, but adjacent to the theater is Grassroots, a Neighborhood Eatery (which I am reviewing in the upcoming week) . Parking is somewhat restricted by resident parking stickers , but the meter system is not bad with an 85 minute show. There is also valet parking at the Theater.
To see what others are saying, ( I think most of them loved the show. It is sometimes difficult to understand why some reviewers feel the need to bring down something that has such universal audience appeal, but, who am I to judge), visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “I Left My Heart : A Salute to the music of Tony Bennett”