It’s not that Tony Bennett is 85, it’s that he sings better now than ever, with astonishing pitch, range, depth and texture. He did a 90 minute show at the Metropolitan Opera house last night to celebrate his landmark birthday. Bill Clinton introduced him, and then Tony ambled out, joined his all-star jazz combo, and let it rip. There was no set backdrop to speak of, just the Met’s plain red curtain. There were three guest stars, all knockouts: Aretha Franklin, Alejandro Sanz, and Elton John.
Tony’s second song was “They All Laughed.” Bennett, always compared to Frank Sinatra, struggled for years, has lived the line from that song: he’s had the last laugh. “Who’s got the last laugh now?” Indeed.
In the audience: Harry Belafonte, Whoopi Goldberg, Katie Couric, Steve (and Maureen) van Zandt, Robert and Grace DeNiro, Regis and Joy Philbin, Sony’s Sir Howard Stringer, Mort Zuckerman, Gay and Nan Talese, Richard Gere and Carey Lowell, Rachael Ray, former mayor David Dinkins, former governor Mario Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul, Jimmy and Margo Nederlander (expecting twins in November! congrats!), Broadway producer Teri Allen Kramer, Caroline Hirsch and Andrew Fox, Bill and Tani Austin of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. and of course Tony’s family: son Danny, who’s managed him so well, with his wife, Carrie, and photographer daughter Kelsey, Tony’s daughters Joanna and Antonia, and his wife Susan.
Oh yes, and Alec Baldwin, newly svelte, maybe 20 pounds lighter, skipping the Emmy Awards to host the after party dinner in a tent in Lincoln Center. The dinner raised money for Tony and Susan’s charity, Exploring the Arts. Dating a yoga instructor has significantly altered Alec’s visage. Who knows how they’ll explain a revitalized Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock”?
The show was an hour and half of perfection. Tony at 85 is like the 8th Wonder of the World. He twirls, spins, does little dances that are not at all parody. He’s got rhythm and it’s kept him light on his feet. When he runs through his really greatest hits– “For Once in My Life,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”–he reinterprets, brings new meaning, is exploring the song and making it fresh. Hasn’t he sung these things like 2 million times? They are concise little paintings now.Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” was a gem. He did “Fly Me to the Moon” without a microphone or amplification. It’s quite the party trick.
With Elton–who performed five songs in tribute to Tony at the after party–Bennett did “If I Ruled the World.” When Elton saw that Tony was going to bring it home, he just got out of the way and let the legend finish. Aretha joined him on “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” from the new Duets II album. Radiant looking, she also sounds fantastic again. The audience swooned.
At the party: Alec, hosting, did some funny imitations of Tony. Elton, before he performed, came over to see Aretha Franklin with partner David Furnish. Elton played piano and sang “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and a medley of songs from “The Lion King.” Franklin was going to leave until she heard “Your Song,” which she’s getting ready to record. “I love that song!” she declared.
Video greetings came from President Obama, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, and Lady Gaga, who sang “Happy Birthday” like a mensch and was quite funny. Watching the video, Aretha Franklin said: “I love the green hair.”
Meantime, Robert DeNiro was just about distraught at his table. Why? “He wants me to stay, he doesn’t know what to do!” exclaimed Reege. “It’s true,” said DeNiro.
Guests received Gucci truffles, copies of Duets II (which will be released on Tuesday), and the recipe for Tony’s late mother’s lasagna–which was served as the main course and was dee-licious!