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Forever young: Tony Bennett displays contemporary verve at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre

Tony Bennett displays contemporary verve at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

05/24/2014 7:00 AM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The lyrics of "I'm Old Fashioned" were one of the only things that didn't ring true during Tony Bennett's wondrous concert at Muriel Kauffman Theatre on Friday. Backed by a refined jazz quartet, Bennett crooned Johnny Mercer's lyric about possessing an affinity for "old fashioned things."

Good taste and exceptional talent never go out of style. Bennett exhibited a wealth of both qualities for an audience of about 1,500.

Bennett, 87, showed few signs of slowing down in an unfailingly vital 70-minute performance. He displayed a few snazzy dance moves and enthusiastically pitched his forthcoming album with pop star Lady Gaga. Most importantly, his voice remains powerful. He sang a portion of the closing number "Fly Me to the Moon" off microphone. Liberated from the slightly processed sound field, Bennett's voice was gruffer but no less inviting than it was at the beginning of his career.

"I've been singing 50 years now, ladies and gentleman," Bennett suggested. "I'll be honest- 60 years."

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco," the 1962 hit that serves as Bennett's signature song, received the biggest ovation. He imbued the chestnut with life-affirming warmth. He wrung every ounce of pathos from a melodramatic version of "Maybe This Time," yet Bennett's incontrovertible sincerity allowed him to get away with the histrionics.

The subdued material was just as momentous. Performed at a whisper, a tender interpretation of "But Beautiful" was stunning. A gripping saloon-style rendition of "Once Upon a Time" was despairingly bleak. A hymn-like reading of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" was delivered with acute conviction.

After opening the show with a pleasing 20-minute set, Antonia Bennett returned for an endearing duet with her father on "Old Friends." Both vocalists were provided with sublime support from pianist Mike Renzi, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones. Obviously delighted by the contributions of the accomplished jazz musicians, Bennett signaled his approval of several solos with a hearty thumbs up.

A master of what he characterizes as "the art of intimate singing," Bennett is one of the last surviving classic crooners. Yet his ability to evolve without compromising his art prevents him from appearing musty.

Bennett introduced "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" as "the very first song I ever recorded." The operatic undercurrent of his initial version of the song now seems preposterously overblown. Friday's jazz-based arrangement was impeccably fashionable. The transformation provides key insights into Bennett's longevity. Rather than merely persevering, Friday's outing indicates that Bennett continues to improve.

TONY BENNETT SETLIST

Watch What Happens

They All Laughed

Maybe This Time

I Got Rhythm

Cold, Cold Heart

Sing, You Sinners

Old Friends

Steppin' Out with My Baby

But Beautiful

The Best Is Yet to Come

The Way You Look Tonight

Just in Time

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The Good Life

Once Upon a Time

The Shadow of Your Smile

One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)

I'm Old Fashioned

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

Who Cares?

Smile

When You're Smiling

Fly Me to the Moon

ANTONIA BENNETT SETLIST

Teach Me Tonight

Taking a Chance On Love

Always on My Mind

Sail Away

From This Moment On

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