When Tony Bennett walks onstage, everyone in the crowd wants to hug him. But these days, only one individual gets to do that, and she is Lady Gaga.
“We have a guest tonight, a living legend!” Gaga shouted to Sunday night’s capacity crowd at Park Theater in her “Jazz + Piano” show. By the time she got to the “Bennett” of “Tony Bennett!” the crowd’s roaring response made it clear who it would be.
Bennett took the spotlight, beamed and said, “What an audience!” The response was long, passionate and quite loud.
The two then flew through “Cheek to Cheek” the title of their 2014 album and world tour, and “The Lady is a Tramp.” The 92-year-old Bennett gave his customarily age-defying performance, booming the vocals as Gaga batted her eyes and toyed with her long, feathered boa.
“He’s in his 90s, but he still sounds like a kid,” Gaga says in a video played during the show. As the two finished, to one of the night’s innumerable standing ovations, she said, “I’m going to walk him off the stage, just because I like touching him.”
As the two walked offstage, Las Vegas native and dignitary Larry Ruvo — of the Keep Memory Alive Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health — turned and said, “That was classic Las Vegas. Not old, classic.”
Bennett was in town for an event benefiting his Exploring The Arts nonprofit organization, which provides services for under-served teenagers. It was his second drop-in to the “Jazz + Piano” show, following his appearance on Jan. 20.
The classic-Vegas vibe only intensified late in the evening, as Gaga joined her longtime bandleader Brian Newman for the second time at a place they’ve called “The Library.”
It’s the off-handed, unofficial title the two have used at NoMad Restaurant at Park MGM. The reference is to the 25,000 or so books from David Rockefeller’s collection stacked on the restaurant’s two levels. But there is no “shushing” and no leafing through books in this place, as Gaga once again dove into the fray of Newman’s “After Dark” hang. The show starts around 11:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. The series ends June 15 and is expected to return in October when Gaga resumes her “Enigma” and “Jazz + Piano” dual residency.
It’s not easy to decide where to begin with the performance, which went on for more than three hours and ended around 2:30 a.m. Dance great Aaron Turner of “Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox” at 1 Oak Nightclub at the Mirage was called up, with his father, Vegas entertainment icon Earl Turner. The two teamed on a tap-dance number, with Aaron dancing and Earl leading the band in Jason Mraz’s “You And I Both.”
Gaga, who arrived about 30 minutes into the first set, pulled the mic from its stand and held it onstage as Turner danced. “It’s Lady Gaga, y’all!” Aaron shouted. Jacklyn McSpadden, also of “PMJ,” later sang “Sway With Me,” and Gaga sang “Happy Birthday to You” for Newman, who (by happy coincidence) turned 38 at midnight.
Oh, and two Gaga fans were engaged during the event. And burlesque star Miss Posh performed some striptease, too.
After earlier offering to sing just one song, Gaga took the stage in full party mode, having thrown back several shots of her favored Jameson whiskey. She climbed atop the long counter separating the restaurant’s booths, saying, “Playing on a big stage in Las Vegas is beyond my dreams. But the truth is, I got my start dancing on bars. I miss those bars because these high heels, they belong in a gutter, not some fancy streets, so don’t let me be misunderstood.”
That song kicked off a Gaga-led medley, including, “Everything But Love,” “Call Me Irresponsible” (during which she ducked down to duet with McSpadden in McSpadden’s booth), “Fly Me to The Moon” and “Luck Be a Lady.”
The performance was unbilled, heartfelt (Gaga and Newman have been friends for 14 years, dating to their club days in New York) and rowdy. At one point, the superstar nearly lost her footing from her makeshift runway. In other words (please be truuuuue), it was a Vegas entertainment history lesson, performed in “The Library.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.