NEW YORK — On Tuesday night, two of New York’s finest entertainers made magic on one of the city’s most iconic stages.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga came together at Radio City Music Hall for “One Last Time,” the first of two farewell shows the longtime friends and collaborators are playing in the leadup to their second joint album, “Love for Sale,” out Oct. 1. The second concert is Thursday.
The seemingly unlikely duo first met in 2011 and released a jazz album, “Cheek to Cheek,” in 2014. Since then, Gaga has released two solo efforts including last year’s “Chromatica” and won a best original song Oscar for “Shallow” from 2018’s “A Star is Born.” Bennett, meanwhile, recorded two other duets albums with Bill Charlap and Diana Krall. He revealed in February that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bennett, who turned 95 on Tuesday, was diagnosed with the disease in 2016. But the music legend was as spry and charismatic as ever as he performed a roughly half-hour solo set for the sold-out Radio City crowd, which gave him a standing ovation after nearly every song. Set-list highlights included “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Last Night When We Were Young,” as Bennett poignantly crooned about “the arms that clung when we were young last night.”
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The jazz icon’s “This Is All I Ask” was similarly emotional, particularly as Bennett lingered on the ballad’s haunting final lines: “And let the music play as long as there’s a song to sing / And I will stay younger than spring.” Throughout his set, Bennett stood by a piano center stage and rarely spoke, aside from the occasional “thank you,” “wow” and “whoa” in between songs. But his frequent air kisses and thumbs up to the audience signaled that he knows how much he is loved.
Gaga, 35, sweetly served as both emcee and hype woman during the hour-and-a-half concert, which was also taped for an upcoming TV special. The pop star opened for Bennett with an unabashedly theatrical performance, featuring two sumptuous costume changes as she shook, shimmied and slinked across the stage in full lounge singer-mode.
Joking about some of her on-stage mishaps earlier in the night, including nearly losing her wig while dancing, Gaga proclaimed, “So far, I’ve called Tony Bennett ‘Tony Benny,’ and my hair fell out. Things can only get better.”
The chameleonic singer was both sultry and sincere throughout her standards-filled set, charmingly playing off bandmates as well as audience members, some of whom were seated in tables on stage to help evoke the show’s jazz club vibe. She spoke at length about her hypothetical funeral introducing “Coquette,” deadpanning that she wants to be cremated. (“I’ve already bought my urn. What if I go and someone gives me a perm and puts me in a pink dress or some (expletive)?”) She also dedicated a stirring “What a Difference a Day Makes” to brave frontline doctors and nurses, adding, “We all know we just went through at least a year and a half of COVID, and we’re still going.”