Saturday, May 18, 2024

Review: Tony Bennett Wows Sold Out Crowd at Radio City for 95th Birthday with Lady Gaga as His Opening Act


In a two hour show that was absolutely historic, Lady Gaga earned her angel wings tonight celebrating Tony Bennett’s 95th birthday at Radio City.

What an incredible evening. The hall was sold out, the stage was occupied by a 40 piece orchestra. Gaga performed for an hour, opening for Tony. Her set was magical, beyond compare. Then Tony took the stage and did a killer set that ended with I Left My Heart in San Francisco. The hall exploded in applause and cheers.

To say the least, it was a night full of standing ovations. But all you need to know is that Tony Bennett’s legendary career culminated tonight in a blaze of glory. And Lady Gaga deserves our never ending thank you.

She never worked so hard in her life. As I said the first hour was all Gaga, in show stopping outfits (at least one designed by her sister) that were elegant and show stopping. She looked like Grace Kelly on her way to win an Oscar in every change. Gaga herself covered mostly song classics like “Luck Be a Lady” and “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Her voice is supple and rich, and, as Tony once told her, she’s a real jazz singer. She at once recalls Liza, Judy, Barbra, and Ella, all fashioned into her own striking tones.

Her standout, I thought, was “La Vie En Rose.” She also joked with the crowd, kibbitzed about COVID, and at one point came into the audience to sing to her sister and mother. I’m not sure if she knew that Jon Bon Jovi was sitting a few seats away. Bon Jovi wasn’t the only celebrity. I saw Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, actor Steve Buscemi, and Andrew Dice Clay.There were rumored sightings of Nancy Pelosi and Gayle King.

And then there was Tony. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he seemed unsteady when the big red curtain rose to reveal him and his jazz group. On the first song, he was warming up. But by the time he hit his second number, Tony was back in swing. Forget Alzheimer’s (not to make a joke.) Tony Bennett not only knows these songs, but he still delivers them with soul, verve, and flash. He’s still got it.

For me, the highlights of his set were “One More for My Baby,” which went from daring to sublime very quickly. Then came Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” followed by”When You’re Smiling,” and a sample of “Fly Me to the Moon.” If you said to a stranger, this man is 95 years old, they wouldn’t believe you. His voice was full and nuanced, and he was totall engaged and loving the moments.

Gaga– whom we’d last seen in smart black and white– returned in gold and led Tony through a bunch of duets including “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Anything Goes.” You could feel he was wavering a bit, but enjoying it all too much to say goodbye. “We’ll see you on the 200th birthday,” Gaga declared, and it seemed like the show was winding down.

The curtain fell, the house lights started to go up and then there was that lump in the throat moment. Tony Bennett, putting a dot at the end of his amazing career, sang his long time signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” I wanted to cry, I’m sure I was not alone. It was absolutely gorgeous, the cherry on the sundae, a magnificent wave from the top of the mountain.

I can’t underplay how much this was a Lady Gaga presentation. The way she acts with him is so full of love and respect. She guided him through their duets, giving him encouragement, and you could see how much he loved it. Whatever Lady Gaga does in the rest of her long life, no one should ever forget this chapter. She certainly was raised right.

The final show is Thursday. If you can, go. There are still a few tickets around. This is a once in a lifetime moment. We sang Happy Birthday with Gaga to Tony tonight. I’m sure they’ll do it again on Thursday. If you love music, you can’t say you were in New York and missed this.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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