They arent exactly your newest kids on the block.
No, the stars in next weeks triple-whammy concert series at the Pantages are 59, 86 and well, lets just say hes gone to a better place.
But Cyndi Lauper, Tony Bennett and Michael Jackson (aka impersonator Kenny Wizz) are making quite a success story for the Broadway Center, if ticket sales are anything to go by.
Ticket sales are great, said executive director David Fischer of the three shows. Cyndi and Tony are two-thirds sold.
Just short of her 60th birthday, glam-punk gal Cyndi Lauper is making a big comeback 30 years after her iconic debut album Shes So Unusual.
With her 2012 Broadway musical Kinky Boots garnering 13 Tony Award nominations, shes debuted as a stage composer. Lauper racked up more than 50 million record sales and Grammy and Emmy awards.
Shes about to launch an autobiographical TV series, has written a New York Times best-selling memoir and established herself as a committed activist for gay and lesbian rights.
Now shes bringing every one of those sassy, pink-hair-and-fishnet songs from Shes So Unusual (think Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Time After Time) back on a tour of the U.S., Japan and Australia. Tacomas the fourth stop and the only one on the West Coast.
For Fischer, Laupers voice and personality are still the big draw.
Her voice is still spectacular, Fischer said. She has such a creative spark and is so sassy. How could you not book her?
Then theres Tony Bennett, 86 and still crooning jazz classics. He will sing at the theater June 15. And Kenny Wizz, a 25-year Michael Jackson impersonator, will bring his wildly successful Michael Jackson: HIStory Thursday with all the lights, videos, costumes and moonwalking a diehard fan could want to relive.
Comebacks are a dime a dozen these days, but having three in one weekend is definitely attention-getting.
It was a coincidence, Fischer said. We happened to be in the right place at the right time. But Tony Bennett isnt a comeback. He never went anywhere. His career has just stayed at its peak partly because his son (who manages him) is very focused on the duet programs that have kept him in the eye of multigenerational audiences. Thats kept him fresh.
And of the Jackson show, its the production values that speak to Fischer.
This is an important show because its so well done, the director said. Its not just a quick and easy knock-off. Kenny Wizz is extremely musically talented.
For its 2013-14 season, the Broadway Center is bringing in a few more such acts: an interactive Beatles tribute and a Blues Brothers revue, for starters.
So whether you were around for the 80s rock scene or the 50s jazz scene, or whether youre young enough to hear Bennetts, Laupers or even Jacksons music for the first time, the Broadway Center is betting youll have a blast from the musical past.
TONY BENNETT: Vocal legend plays Pantages to benefit arts education
Tony Bennett might be 86, but he doesnt let that stop him from doing anything.
The 17-time Grammy winner still sings, paints, and tours, visits high schools and is on his second collaboration with pop superstar Lady Gaga. Next weekend, hes bringing his soulful crooning to Tacoma in a benefit for arts education both local and national.
A chart-topper for six decades, Bennett still sings the great American jazz and pop standards that have sold more than 50 million records and won him accolades from Kennedy Center honors to the United Nations Citizen of the World award.
But the Italian American born Antonio Benedetto in Astoria, Queens, and stage-christened Tony Bennett by a supportive Bob Hope, is more than just a long-lived singer. Hes a vocal success story who overcame two divorces, drug addiction and a career collapse in the early 1980s to kick down the musical generation gap by collaborating with artists as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 1990s to Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga in the recent album Duets.
He also is a respected painter (with works in the Smithsonian and the Butler Institute of American Art, among others) and a keen advocate for arts education in schools.
His Tacoma concert next week is largely a benefit for the Broadway Centers own arts education programs (though $1 of every ticket goes to Bennetts own educational nonprofit). One of the largest arts education programs in the state, the Broadway Center serves more than 51,000 students, teachers and parents each year through school matinees, family shows and classes and workshops in schools and in house.
But many ticket buyers simply want to see Bennett sing with his daughter Antonia Bennett as supporting artist. He told The News Tribune why hes still singing and why he supports arts education.
Q: I hate to bring up your age, but touring at 86 is quite an accomplishment. Does it get tiring? Do you ever think of stopping?
A: Its funny you bring it up as Columbia Records just released a live concert I did with Dave Brubeck in 1962 and I hadnt heard the recording in over 50 years, since it had been lost right after it was taped and just found in Columbias archives. After listening to it, I realized that I am still just as excited by performing as I was back then. I still love singing to a live audience and entertaining people, so for those hours they are at the show, they forget about their own problems and just enjoy themselves. I have been fortunate to make a living doing what I love most, and honestly, I feel like I have never worked a day in my life.
Q: What will you be singing in Tacoma?
A: I like to tour with jazz musicians and I have a magnificent jazz quartet that has been on the road with me for many years now. The beauty of working with jazz artists, besides the fact that their musicianship is unparalleled, is that they work spontaneously and in the moment. That is the way I love to perform, so we dont have to stick to a set list and have the flexibility to change things around right on stage. I think it keeps the show very exciting and fresh. My mission has always been to present the finest songs from the Great American Songbook, which was a golden age of composition and songwriting. That is the source of my inspiration.
Q: Your last couple of albums were hugely successful, pairing you with contemporary singers. Who have you most enjoyed collaborating with lately and which artists do you most respect as singers?
A: Well, two of my favorite contemporary singers (are) Lady Gaga and k.d. lang. I love how both of them sing and they are both true artists. In fact, my next project will be a collaborative record with Lady Gaga as she loves jazz and the American Songbook, so I am very much looking forward to it. She has a wonderful voice and is also a very accomplished piano player.
Q: Your concert here benefits the Broadway Centers arts education program as well as your own organization, Exploring the Arts. Can you tell us about that?
A: (It) is a nonprofit that I founded with my wife, Susan. We support and fund arts education in public high schools, as we were very concerned that the first thing that gets taken away in public school education are the arts programs when budgets (are) cut.
Q: How did you start it, and why is it important for kids to study the arts?
A: I was fortunate enough to attend public school in New York City and was able to study both music and painting. I cannot imagine having an education that did not include the creative arts in some way. After Frank Sinatra passed away, I wanted to do something to honor his memory, so my wife, Susan, and I decided to create a public arts high school. The city of New York gave us a budget to build the basic structure of the school in Astoria, Queens, and then we started Exploring the Arts to raise the additional money necessary to create a state-of-the-art facility. We started the Sinatra school in a temporary space in 2001, and then in 2009 we opened the permanent site. In fact, Billy Joel just came to the school to speak to the kids about the arts. We now support 17 schools: 14 in New York City and three in Los Angeles. Our goal is to support arts programs in every state in the country. My dream is that we will raise more generations of creative artists in America than any other country on Earth.
Q: What music do you like listening to?
A: Jazz is definitely my first love, but I also like to listen to classical music, especially when I paint.
Q: What are you reading at the moment?
A: I just started a book called Why Jazz Happened by a very talented jazz journalist named Marc Myers.
Q: If you could change anything in American society right now, what would it be?
A: I would hope that we all see each other as humans sharing the same planet and work together to end violence in all forms.
KENNY WIZZ: Jackson is still a thriller, thanks to impersonator
It might seem an odd life, touring the world to spend three hours each night dressing up like a dead man for gasping fans then going grocery shopping the next day as a nobody. But thats what Kenny Wizz, a long-time Michael Jackson impersonator, does for a living. On Thursday, hell bring his show to Tacoma.
The local stop is right at the beginning of the U.S. portion of an international tour thats wowed audiences in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Canada.
In Michael Jackson: HIStory, Wizz takes fans through nearly two dozen favorite songs from every part of Jacksons career. He wears the same costumes and wigs, rocks those famous moves and transports still-grieving fans into a world where their hero still lives at least for a couple of hours.
Rock impersonators abound, of course. But theres still something a little odd about spending your working life pretending to be one other person. Wizz, who began as a street performer and only began the Jackson impersonation when friends egged him on, is the first to say he keeps it strictly at job level. On the phone from the tour, he talked with The News Tribune about Jackson the performer, Jackson the icon and the business of being just like him.
Question: Youve just had a highly successful international tour. Where is your biggest fan base?
Answer: Its hard to say. Youre talking about an icon that was known throughout the world. (The act) is going to be well-received outside the U.S. in general because theyve never had the type of access that we had. We take that for granted. We see a lot of entertainment here. Theres a higher appreciation outside the U.S. a lot of excitement. I worked in Las Vegas for 11 years, and there were so many other shows (like this). At least three other guys were doing (Jackson impersonations) in different shows. Were used to seeing that. Outside the country, not as many people are doing this kind of thing.
Q: How is HIStory different from your Las Vegas show?
A: Its a full-on production, more of a concert format. There are six dancers, a live band, LED lighting, the famous video clips playing. Theres over 600 lighting cues, 22 songs. Its high-energy, nonstop.
Q: Really? 22 songs?
A: That was one of the more challenging aspects. You cant get everything people want to hear in that (time limit).
Q: Do you go chronologically through Jacksons life?
A: No, because thats what people expect. Im not trying to say Im Michael Jackson and duplicate everything he did in order. Its also psychological. Once you get to the end, people know his careers going to get cut off, and it brings a negative end to the show. I mix it up the start, then the end. I want you to enjoy each song at that time for the production that it is, all the different emotions. I want people not to know whats coming up next.
Q: Do you have a favorite song?
A: I do not. Thats by design. I dont allow myself to have favorites. In his shows, Michael Jackson had 100 percent energy from beginning to end, and if you have a favorite, youll show energy for that and people will know even if you dont mean to. You have to give 100 percent for each song because of all the emotion involved.
Q: After studying him and performing his music for 25 years, do you feel you know the real Michael Jackson any better?
A: Oh, yeah. I never met him. Thats never been my focus because Im an entertainer. I feel like I already knew him because Ive studied the way he walks and talks and looks and moves his hands. Its all character acting, like any film actor. I feel like I understand where he may have been coming from, though not completely.
Q: You only act as Jackson for the show, right?
A: Yes. People think I wake up with a curl coming down my forehead, but I have my own life. I have to buy my groceries, go shopping. I could not have been a survivor of this act if I walked around every day looking like him. I dont need the attention. No one knows what I look like outside of makeup. Its not about me. Its a job. I try to stay as humble as possible. I just happen to be able to present something in a certain way. I couldnt do any of it without the 25 other people on the show.
Q: How did you get started impersonating Jackson?
A: To me, its still a funny thing how it all happened. I didnt want to do it but people kept on and on. It was when Thriller came out. (Jackson) had no fancy costumes, no makeup, just a natural look. Thats what I looked like then: short black curls. By the time I got into (impersonating), hed changed his look, so I had to learn about makeup and wigs and all that.
Q: Have you ever had any feedback from the rest of the Jacksons?
A: As of late, no. His mom came to my show in Vegas once. She told me I was doing a good job and to keep it up. Ive met nearly all the family.
Q: What was your reaction to Jacksons death?
A: I was in Vegas when it happened. I was riding in a car and a friend sent me a text that hed passed. I thought they were joking. When I got home, I turned on the TV and saw all the commotion. I turned it off right away. I understand him. He was the kind of person that if he has a cut on his finger, therell be a big commotion. Once (his death) was certain, though, I canceled my act out of respect. I had always based it on a living legend, following in his footsteps, duplicating his videos or outfits. I was content with that.
Q: You didnt want to keep going?
A: It took me back to when Elvis had passed. You have all these people coming out of the woodwork, selling merchandise and trying to make money. Thats a terrible thing, and I didnt want any part of that. Agents, managers Id never even met kept asking me to do shows (but I didnt). Months later, I had fans asking me to come back. Thats what made a change. I thought it could work as a healing process for fans and for myself. I did one 15-minute show and people came up afterward thanking me, saying it had helped them. Thats the only reason I came back on stage. People are still telling me it helped them. Q: Do you still feel sad?
A: I still go through it on stage, dealing with it. But thats what I do.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568