Call it a fabulous case of classy meets sassy.
For it was clear during their two-hour set Friday night at Ravinia, that Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are having a blast on the road, as their Cheek to Cheek tour rolled into the Highland Park venue for the first of two sold-out shows.
The 88-year-old Bennett was every inch the classy jazz crooner, impeccably turned out in an elegant tuxedo, and turning out some of the best vocals of his career. Gaga was head-to-toe the sequined goddess, bold and brassy (and especially revealing in one partially see-through red dress), and at 29, proving she’s more than capable of swinging, big band-style.
TONY BENNETT & LADY GAGA Highly Recommended Where: Ravinia Festival, Highland Park When: 8 p.m. June 27 SOLD OUT Info: Ravinia.org
Touring behind their Grammy-winning jazz standards album from which this tour is named, Bennett and Gaga proved to be a dynamic duo in concert, churning out nearly 30 songs culled from the Great American Songbook with enough jazz to heat up one very chilly, rainy night at the outdoor concert venue.
Kicking off the evening with a smart and brassy “Anything Goes,” Bennett (backed by his longtime quartet) and Gaga (backed by her own quintet out of New York) with a bold 14-piece orchestra as well, made quite a case for everything old is new again. Moving on to a playful turn on their hit duet “Cheek to Cheek,” Bennett was in his glory, Gaga as fiery as ever.
Bennett was unstoppable at every turn, with lush vocals on everything from the piano-driven “Strangers in Paradise” to the big and boisterous “Sing You Sinners” to the always poignant “Smile.” Turning up the tempo for “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” the singer took the audience on one wild ride, then let everyone catch their breath with a haunting turn on “For Once in My Life.” Whether the accompaniment was quartet or orchestra, or a masterful combination of both, Bennett soared lyrically as the music of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and many other greats filled the night sky.
Gaga delivered her one-of-a-kind stylings through both her vocals and her eight costume changes. Sharing the spotlight with Bennett on numerous gems including the scat-laced “Firefly,” the boisterous “I Won’t Dance” and tender and romantic “But Beautiful,” the pop star dug deep, informing the audience that she has sung jazz “since I was a little girl.”
For her solo efforts, Gaga ran the gamut from sizzling to cheeky. Citing Cole Porter as her favorite composer, she took “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” into a whole new realm of torch song. She stopped the show with her passionate delivery of “La Vie en Rose” (sung mostly in French, no less), dolled up in a rose-pink satin gown and blonde wig (more than reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”).
It’s clear that Gaga has a deep affection for Bennett, the jazz master who brought her into his music milieu, beginning with his “Duets II” album in 2011. “The true legends are f—-n nice,” Gaga said at one point, praising Bennett for “all the life lessons you have taught me.” And at another point, telling the audience that their two concerts were the fastest-selling shows in the 111-history of Ravinia, quipping: “It didn’t have s–t to do with me!” She then dedicated a smartly jazzed take on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” to Bennett, proclaiming her bewilderment at his choosing her to share this part of his musical legacy.
Truth be told, Gaga has brought Bennett more fully into the 21st century of musicmaking, into a social media world where albums are streamed, not pressed, where praise (and criticism) are disseminated instantaneously across the globe, where success is often measured by “re-tweets” and “likes.” She has helped make some very wonderful old songs quite new again.
Bennett has on countless occasions called Gaga a great singer of jazz, praising her improvisational skills and her prowess as a jazz pianist, as well. That he has found a powerful young voice to carry the standards torch is an understatement.
It’s a match made in jazz heaven.
Posted at 2:15 p.m. on June 27, 2015.