Star-studded birthday party - "Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come"

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16 December 2016

NBC, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 9/8c

By Lori Acken

On a balmy September night in New York City, “Tony Bennett” takes the Radio City Music Hall stage. Except it isn’t the Tony Bennett — the iconic crooner who marked his 90th birthday a month before. It’s Alec Baldwin, sporting an exact replica of the real Tony Bennett’s wavy, steely mane. Greeting his chortling audience, Baldwin launches into a bang-on Bennett impression, noting that “when you’re 90, any day above ground is cause for celebration,” then soliciting a round of applause for the fire exits, just in case there’s a 90-candle birthday cake somewhere in the joint.

Bennett himself sits in the audience with his wife, having waded through the packed house moments before. Well-wishers crowd around him, hoping for a few words or a photo with the man we’re all there to celebrate. And for the next three hours, Radio City hosts some of entertainment’s finest, who honor Bennett with speech and song, not only for his contribution to music but also as a friend, fine artist, human rights activist, arts education champion and all-around righteous guy.

On Tuesday, NBC brings you highlights from a night filled with standing ovations and once-in-a-lifetime performances from Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Michael Bublé, Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., Kevin Spacey, Andrea Bocelli and others, in the two-hour special, "Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come.“

"[Gaga] has that young audience — she doesn’ t have my audience, you know?” Bennett muses of his unlikely buddy during our phone conversation a few weeks later. “By performing with us, she gave me her audience, and I gave her my audience — so that’s everybody. [Laughs] It’s a wonderful relationship that we have, and I thought she was wonderful that night.”

Yes, Bennett performs, too, offering flawless renditions of “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” And though he has earned days of ease, he’s still rarely in one place for long, packing his days with tour dates and new recording projects, and promoting his new book, Just Getting Started, which represents his latest ruminations on living what is widely known as “the Zen of Bennett.” “It comes from a love of performing,” he reflects. “I’m blessed with the fact that the public admires my work, and I just never want to let them down. I like to give them a full performance, so they walk out feeling very good about what happened that night.”

On this night, with the help of his friends, that mission is more than accomplished.
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