Consider this an unqualified rave. NBC is offering a deluxe sweeps and holiday treat in Tuesday's prime-time special Tony Bennett: An American Classic (8/7c), which is as lustrously filmed as it is impeccably sung. For those of us who've been waiting for Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall ( Chicago) to tackle a new musical project, here it is. Marshall has lovingly conceived and masterfully executed a shimmering, swinging hour of razzle-dazzle showmanship that redefines what a variety special can be.

I'm tempted to say they don't make 'em like this anymore, but the truth is, even back when they did, they didn't make 'em this good very often. (What this special reminded me of most, especially in the elaborate and evocative production numbers, was Bob Fosse's landmark Liza With a Z special that Showtime so magnificently resurrected and restored earlier this year.)

This is the rare music special that looks as good as it sounds. And it sounds spectacular. Inspired by Bennett's new hit Duets CD, most of the hour is comprised of the living legend singing alongside other musical icons. It opens with Bennett hauntingly joined in a dark, cavernous theater by Barbra Streisand on the song Smile. It closes with Bennett delivering his signature song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, in a memorable solo. Like Bennett himself, this is a class act all the way.

Succinct biographical sketches are provided by the likes of Billy Crystal, Bruce Willis, John Travolta and Robert De Niro, as we track the singer's progression from the era of swing and jazz (a Chicago-esque presentation of Sing You Sinners with John Legend) through Las Vegas/Rat Pack headlining stardom (with showgirls and Elton John accompanying him on a nifty Rags to Riches) up to his reintroduction to a new generation on MTV (represented by Christina Aguilera and a sizzling version of Steppin' Out With My Baby, which isn't on the CD).

The show is one highlight after another, with never a lull. As Bennett teams with the remarkable k.d. lang for his breakthrough hit Because of You, and later with Diane Krall for The Best Is Yet to Come (staged in the style of a classic '60s-era variety show, with a glimpse of a vintage NBC logo), and exuberantly with Stevie Wonder on For Once in My Life, you are witness to the essence of cool.

Tony Bennett turned 80 this year, but he seems ageless, timeless. There's nothing old-fashioned about Tony Bennett: An American Classic. This is not to be confused with latter-day Bob Hope specials. There's no cornball comedy or cheesy banter, just a love for performers and performing that transcends musical and TV genres. This is one for the ages, and should serve as a model for anyone desiring to do a music special in the future. This is not just a salute to a great singer, but a celebration of a life as art. Everyone involved should get those Emmy speeches ready.