The Life of Tommy Tune

Essay by spidey1308College, UndergraduateA-, April 2009

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Childhood EnvironmentTommy Tune was born Thomas James Tune in Wichita Falls, Texas to oil rig worker, horse trainer, and restaurateur, Jim Pridemore, and Eva Mae Clark. Tommy Tune had an interest in dance and ballet as a youngster. He produced theatrical dramas and comedies in the family's garage. His interest in dance was crushed in high school when he reached six feet, six inches tall; he knew he could not have a classical dance career at this height, so he concentrated on the theater. He attended Lamar High School in Houston and the Methodist-affiliated Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Texas, and went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 1962 and then took take graduate courses at the University of Houston. Tommy then moved to New York to start his career.

First Signs of TalentTommy Tune first danced onto the Broadway scene in the chorus of Baker Street in 1965.

While admitting his first love is the American Broadway experience, Tommy Tune did choose to appear in two movie films early in his career. He appeared as Ambrose Kemper in the movie version of Hello Dolly! directed by Gene Kelly and starring Barbra Streisand, and was featured in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend, starring Twiggy. He took his talents into television with his work as Assistant Choreographer for The Dean Martin Show. His first Broadway directing and choreography credits were for the original production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1978.

Training for CareerTommy began tap dancing, acrobatics and ballet lessons at the age of 5. He majored in drama at the University of Texas and the University of Houston. Drama critic John Simon described him "as long on talent as on legs", a sentiment echoed around the globe by critics and audiences alike.

Early SuccessHe worked in the chorus' of A Joyful Noise" in 1967 and How Now Dow Jones in 1968. He garnered raves and his first Tony (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) in Michael Bennett's Seesaw in 1973. Branching out, he directed his first show, the off-Broadway production of The Club in 1976. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was his next venture followed by A Day in the Hollywood/ A Night in the Ukraine and his second Tony (Best Choreography).

Influential CollaboratorsHe played Ambrose Kemper in the movie version of Hello Dolly!, directed by Gene Kelly and starring Barbra Streisand; and, after working as assistant choreographer for "The Dean Martin Show" on television, he was featured in Ken Russell's The Boyfriend starring Twiggy. The two were reunited on Broadway in My One and Only. He works often with The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, for example touring in a Big Band revue entitled Song and Dance Man and White Tie and Tails (2002). Tune also toured the United States and Canada in the musical Bye Bye Birdie, directed by Gene Saks. His collaboration with director Peter Masterson and choreographer Thomie Walsh on The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas earned him another Tony Award in 1978 for Best Director of a Musical.

Career HighpointsTommy Tune would soon step out of the chorus and into a principal role in the Broadway musical Seesaw, which earned him his first Tony Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Less than a decade later, he won a Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in My One and Only. However, Tune's talents were not limited to his onstage performances. Throughout his career, he would go on to win an additional seven Tony Awards, four for Best Choreography (A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, Grand Hotel, My One and Only, The Will Rogers Follies) and three for Best Direction of a Musical (Nine, Grand Hotel, The Will Rogers Follies), bringing his total to an unprecedented nine Tony Awards and the only person in theatrical history to win in four different categories and to win the same two Tony Awards two years in a row.

In addition, his talents have been recognized by receiving eight Drama Desk Awards, three Astaire Awards, and the Society of Directors and Choreographers George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement. He is also the recipient of the The National Medal of Arts, the Country's highest honor for artistic achievement. Tune's talents extend beyond the stage, however. His film credits include, Hello Dolly, The Boyfriend, Mimi Bluette, Fiore Del Mio Giardino, and Hollywood Blvd. He has been honored with a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame. Throughout his career he has toured extensively in productions of Irma La Douce, Seesaw, Tommy Tune Tonight, My One and Only, Bye, Bye, Birdie, and his act with The Manhattan Rhythm Kings.

Tommy returned to off-Broadway in 1981 to direct Caryl Churchill's "Cloud 9". In 1982, he brought "Nine" and his third Tony (Best Direction of a Musical). Tommy pulled double in "My One and Only" and was rewarded with his fourth and fifth Tony's (Best Choreography, Best Actor in a Musical). This was followed by "Stepping Out", and then he received his next two Tony's with "Grand Hotel" (Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical). The following year brought the "Will Rogers Follies" and his next two Tony Awards, (Best Choreography, Best Musical). Tommy returned to the stage in his acclaimed one-man song and dance extravaganza, "Tommy Tune Tonight!" first on Broadway and then touring nationally and internationally. Tommy is the recipient of eight Drama Desk Awards, two Obie Awards, Dance Magazine's Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 1990 American Dance Award (presented by the National Academy of Dance); the 1990 Drama League Musical Theatre Award for Direction and Choreography; the Astaire Award in both 1990 and 1991, George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement, the University of Texas' distinguished Alumnus Award; and the Jean Cocteau International Style Award. He was also named to the Top 10 International Best Dressed List of 1992.

Career EndingHe has gone on to direct, choreograph, or both, some eight Broadway musicals. He directed a new musical titled Turn of the Century, which premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on September 19, 2008 and closed on November 2, 2008. Off-Broadway, Tune has directed The Club and Cloud Nine. Tune toured the United States in the Sherman Brothers musical Busker Alley in 1994-1995 and in the stage adaptation of the film Dr. Doolittle in 2006.

Tommy Tune is the only person to win Tony Awards in the same categories (Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical) in consecutive years (1990 and 1991), and the first to win in four different categories. In 1999, he made his Las Vegas debut as the star of EFX at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tommy staged an elaborate musical entitled Paparazzi for the Holland America Line cruise ship the Oosterdam in 2003. Tune has been performing in his new musical revue, Steps in Time: A Broadway Biography in Song and Dance, in Boston in April 2008 and continuing in various venues from Bethesda, Maryland in January 2009 to California in February 2009. The Tommy Tune Awards, presented annually by Theatre under the Stars (TUTS) honor excellence in high school musical theatre in Houston. The current home of the Tommy Tune Awards is the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, Texas.

LegacyAn American director, choreographer and dancer, Tommy Tune is internationally recognized and has performed in and directed numerous Broadway shows. He is known for his comedic style and making light of serious issues such as androgynous role modeling. His credits include the film The Boyfriend, starring popular model Twiggy. His successful career includes many awards, films and television specials. In 1997, Tommy's memoir, Footnotes, was published by Simon and Schuster along with the issue of his first solo CD, "Slow Dancin'," a collection of romantic ballads on the RCA/Victor label.

On November 12, 2003, The President of The United States presented Tommy Tune with the nations' highest honor for Artistic Achievement, The National Medal of Arts. In a private ceremony in the oval office of the White House, Tommy received this honor to add to his already huge collection of awards. Tommy Tune has been invited to sing and dance for three U.S. presidents, the Queen of England and the Royal Family of Monaco. In 1991, he was inducted by Gwen Verdon into the Theatre Hall of Fame in Broadway's Gershwin Theatre. In 1994 he was honored with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tommy has just completed recording an album of romantic ballads entitled "Slow Dancin'" on the RCA label. In his spare time, Mr. Tune enjoys painting in his Manhattan tower studio. Some of his work can be seen on his website Most recently, Tommy directed the new musical, Turn of the Century, at the esteemed Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The show, slated for Broadway, was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice of Jersey Boys fame.

Works CitiedFamous Texans. “Tommy Tune”. 12 March. 2009: on-line. Internet. Available “Tommy Tune Who?” 12 March. 2009: on-line. Internet. Available Broadway database. “Tommy Tune” 10 March. 2009: online. Internet. Available