Theater Review / Tenderly Rosemary Clooney’s story will melt your heart
By Joanna Brady
February 19, 2019
Theater Review / Tenderly
Rosemary Clooney’s story will melt your heart
I’m dating myself again, but back in the day, I used to buy Rosemary Clooney’s records on a regular basis as she cheerfully belted out hit after hit. She was the wholesome songbird of the pre-rock’n’roll days of the 1940s and 1950s who made a huge mark on the music scene of that era.
Unfortunately, the superstar’s fame and charm papered over the real story behind the singer, a story only few people knew about.
In Tenderly The Rosemary Clooney Musical, now playing at the Red Barn Theatre, writers Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman have revealed the surprising truth behind this cheerful, effervescent woman, who passed away in 2002. But this is not just a musical where the main character sings one song after another. It’s a compelling story about the true cost of fame, peppered with songs. And therein lies the difference. As Kim Schroeder Long, the star of the show has observed, “The songs just help tell the story.”
Tenderly is astutely directed—as always—by Joy Hawkins. Kim Schroeder Long’s performance is dazzling, with the same velvety, torch sound in her voice when she sings. Yet, when portraying the drama of the play, manages to capture the scrappiness of Clooney’s personality. Long excels as an actress, especially in the second act when she totally draws you into the zeitgeist of the times. She has done her research.
Long is superbly supported by Key West’s versatile performer, David Black, who plays many different characters: the shrink, her priest, her sister, her mother, her uncle George, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jose Ferrer (whom Clooney married twice), Dante de Paolo (whom she married later), and a legal agent for Paramount.
The music for the show is provided by the extraordinary local band made up of Jim Rice on piano, Joe Dallas on bass, and Daniel Clark on drums.
The script covers more than 30 years of Clooney’s life. Her unhappy childhood in Maysville, KY when she was abandoned by her ‘CIA family’, (Catholic Irish Alcoholics) and expected to raise her siblings at a young age; her success; and the betrayals that ensued.
From the git-go, Tenderly reveals the agony of addiction, opening as it does in a rehab in 1968, with flashbacks to the back story. While wildly successful professionally, Clooney’s personal life behind the smiles and song was in shambles. The dangerous combination of alcohol and pills, depression, affairs, and the wrong choice of husband brought about a nervous breakdown. She was washed up. The second act, which takes place after the star’s meltdown on stage, is riveting.
Clooney’s signature songs are woven in and out of the story as audiences learn about her professional successes as well as her struggles – and cheer for her triumphant comeback. With over 20 of her most beloved hits, the score is itself a salute to the golden age of music, and features all the songs that made Rosemary famous, like “Hey There,” “Sisters,” “Sway,” “Botch-a-Me,” “Mambo Italiano,” and of course, “Tenderly.”
While the play deals with problems that are relevant to us today, it is far from a downer. She is helped out of it by her shrink, and by crooner Bing Crosby, who offers her a new lease on life. That was in 1977, and the entertainer never looked back. Her comeback was a big success.
Clooney came to prominence in the early 1950s with the song “Come On-a My House“, a metaphor for her life, which she happily sings at the end of the show. The play Tenderly shows us what a strong woman she was. A story of courage and resilience that audiences will love, no matter what age they are. And—spoiler alert—it ends happily. See it. “Tenderly” is a very entertaining play!
“Tenderly” opens Tuesday, Feb. 19 at the Red Barn and runs through March 16. All curtains at 8:00 pm. For tickets, visit redbarntheatre.com/tickets or call 305 296-9911. Catered reception following the Opening Night performance on Feb, 19, and ticket holders for that evening are invited to join the cast and crew. A Talkback Session with cast and director will take place after the performance on Friday, Feb. 22.
(Joanna Brady is a local writer, author of the historical Key West novel, The Woman at the Light, published by St. Martin’s Press)