ATLANTIC CITY — Actress Katharine Hepburn reportedly said about the acting and dancing duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “He gives her class, and she gives him sex appeal.”
A similar sentiment applies to the pairing of classic pop vocalist Tony Bennett and one of the hottest current pop singers, Lady Gaga, who brought their “Cheek to Cheek Live” show Friday to a sold-out, 3,000-person capacity Event Center inside Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The collaboration is really on Bennett’s turf. Bennett, 88, has been singing classic jazz standards for 66 years, and it would be ridiculous for him to sing the type of music the 29-year-old Gaga is famous for. If she wasn’t so surprisingly adept at singing this material, the teaming would not have worked at all, and Bennett probably would not have agreed to it, but it was abundantly clear Friday that these two were made for each other.
The 100-minute concert was enjoyable the whole time as they sang some songs together and each did performances.
While they were on stage together, they showed a lot of chemistry. When singing such songs as “Nature Boy,” Gaga would put her head on Bennett’s shoulder while he held her with his hand on her back. Sometimes, Bennett would sing looking out into the audience while Gaga gazed up at him.
Gaga made for a great collaborator and duet partner because she can sing the songs from the Great American Songbook as well as she does her own pop hits, and just as important, she can do it while maintaining her unpredictable personality, which made for a riveting show.
Every time Gaga left the stage, she came back wearing a different outfit.
One of the highlights of her wardrobe was a see-through red number with pasties on her chest and a white, old-style bathing suit bottom or granny panties, accompanied by a red-feathered cape. Gaga took the glamorous route for most of the night. For their duet on the song “I Won’t Dance,” Gaga came out in a black dress that looked like something a 1920s flapper would have worn.
As stunning as Gaga’s outfits were, her singing was even more impressive.
Two of Gaga’s best were “Lush Life,” which had her drinking on stage, exhibiting excellent microphone technique to decrease and increase the volume of her voice and finishing the song with her back to the back of Bennett’s pianist sitting on the piano bench, and her cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” which I imagine even the late singer would have approved of.
“Why is Tony Bennett singing with the chick who wore the meat dress?” said Gaga, verbalizing what some people in the audience must have been thinking. “I’m underestimated all the time. It’s the blonde hair and the a**.”
Gaga had people standing and applauding at the end of several of her solo numbers.
“Thanks for giving me a chance tonight, A.C.,” Gaga said.
While one can be confused as to whether Gaga is being truthful or putting on an act — she said she used to take the Port Authority bus at 2 a.m. from New York City to Atlantic City, which could be true — Bennett is a study in sincerity.
Bennett recalled coming to a small club here — he was talking about the now defunct 500 Club but didn’t mention it by name — and seeing the late Frank Sinatra. Bennett said Sinatra would do four sets of music in one day, including a 4 a.m. set. Hearing Sinatra sing those great songs inspired him to try to make his living as a vocalist. As pleasurable as Bennett and Gaga were together, Bennett hit greater heights on the stage by himself. All he had to sing was one line of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” and the audience was applauding.
During the middle third of the concert, Bennett sang a slowed-down version of “For Once In My Life,” which was one of the night’s highlights. Bennett’s version of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” showed that at his advanced age, he is still one of the best male ballad singers alive.
After singing his signature song on stage by himself, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” to the standing ovation of the crowd, Bennett said he and Gaga just got back to the U.S. from the European leg of their tour.
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Singing to an American audience is so beautiful. Thanks for being wonderful to us,” Bennett said.
With their final song, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” Gaga and Bennett came back out several times to pose and wave to the crowd. The tour is only 36 shows long, and after today, only four shows are left in three cities, including the final show Aug. 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
This tour may go down in history as historic, as Gaga and Bennett may never collaborate again, and the show proves Gaga could be a legitimate Broadway musical star if she wants to be. Borgata pulled off a coup landing this show instead of the tour stopping in Philadelphia.