29 October 2011: State Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio
So for the third time in ten days, I found myself at the State Theatre in Playhouse Square Sunday night. Playhouse Square is made up of five primary theatres: the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, Palace, and State. Combine those venues with all the other options in Northeast Ohio, like the Akron Civic, House of Blues, and EJ Thomas, and it’s pretty remarkable that I would end up at the same place for all three shows.
While not the quite the 3 Shows In 3 Nights endurance marathon Tracy and I embarked on in early 2010, the events I attended this month were certainly as varied. Duran Duran the previous Wednesday with Tracy kicked things off, continuing with the Kathy Griffin show Sunday night with my buddy Alan, and concluding with Tony Bennett Saturday night.
The night began, fittingly, in Little Italy at the Trattoria on the Hill, an institution in the neighborhood that Tracy and I have been to numerous times over the years, just not often enough because of proximity. Located east of downtown Cleveland near University Circle and Case Western Reserve University, Little Italy is a great place to stroll and dine and soak in atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s not really close enough to be convenient enough to just pop over for an afternoon. It is a destination location for us when we have a show or special night out, and we had both Saturday night. The Tony Bennett tickets were a gift to my in-laws for my father-in-law’s birthday.
The in-laws had never been to the Trattoria, so it was fun to share this unique bit of Cleveland with them before heading down Euclid Avenue to Playhouse Square. Bennett’s show was scheduled to start at 8, and a few minutes after the hour the house announcer welcomed us to The Tony Bennett Show and asked us to first greet Antonia Bennett. I don’t think Antonia would be singing professionally if she weren’t opening for her dad. Her short set was disappointing in that it was unexpected and because she clearly did not inherit her Father’s vocal chops. Unremarkable is the nicest way to describe Antonia’s voice. Thankfully, she worked her way quickly through a half-dozen or so standards and brought her dad on stage without an intermission.
Bennett, the elder, has not missed a beat. He perfectly nailed every song through the nearly hour-and-a-half long set. His rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret was simply stellar, probably my favorite of the night. But matching his song selection was Bennett’s easy banter with the audience. Following his run through of “Cold, Cold Heart”, he told the story of songwriter Hank Williams calling to give him a hard time for “ruining” his song. And Bennett introduced an amazing rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile” by talking about the handwritten note he received from the songwriter thanking him when he recorded the cover.
There was a dedication to Lady Gaga, who performs with Bennett on his Duets II album, and at one point Bennett’s daughter returned to perform a duet with her dad. There were age-appropriate jokes about how the 85-year-old crooner and Rosemary Clooney were the first American idols, and pop music trivia history lessons delivered through tales of his being discovered by Pearl Bailey and how (Clevelander) Bob Hope came up with his professional name.
The crown jewel of the evening, however, was Bennett’s show closing “Fly Me to the Moon”, performed without a microphone while his band quietly backed him. I have extolled the virtues of Playhouse Square’s SmartSeats in the past. Most shows at all of the Playhouse Square venues tend to offer the $10 cheap seats tickets for the last row or two of the theatre, and Tracy and I take advantage of the offer anytime it’s available for a show we want to see. The Tony Bennett Show was no different. You get what you pay for, and we were appropriately seated in the very last row of the auditorium. However, as testament to both Bennett’s vocal ability and the amazing acoustics of the venue, we heard every word, every note, perfectly. The man can sing. Period.