BWW Review: TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL at Playhouse On Park
Hers is some of the most iconic music of the 20th century and many of her songs formed the soundtrack of people's lives in the American post war era. And though Rosemary Clooney's public persona was one of grace and composure, in her personal life she was battling significant personal demons that almost brought her career (and possibly, her life) to an early end. But, at a time when self-care and taking steps to address ones mental health was not the norm, Ms. Clooney had the courage to face her demons head on and get the help she most desperately needed. It is this struggle (and triumph) that makes up the story of TENDERLY: THE Rosemary Clooney MUSICAL, which is now playing at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.
Set in the office Dr. Victor Monke at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills during the summer of 1968, TENDERLY introduces the audience to Rosemary (Susan Haefner) and her personal struggles through the lens of her sessions with Dr. Monke (Samuel Lloyd, Jr.). Seamlessly transitioning from his office to various settings from her memory, the play punctuates Ms. Clooney's life and career through her stellar catalog of hit songs including "Come On-A My House", "Sisters", "Hey There", and "Mambo Italiano", just to name a few. Whenever other characters are present, from Bing Crosby to Jose Ferrer to Rosemary's sister Betty, they are all played by Mr. Lloyd.
A show like TENDERLY, with just two actors, requires both to be extremely talented and that is certainly the case with this production. Susan Haefner is uncanny in the way she captures Rosemary Clooney's voice, her mannerisms and her wit. She beautifully delivers song after song and is powerful in the dramatic portions of the evening. She is believable in her initial refusal to admit she needs help and conveys a rollercoaster of emotion from beginning to end. As Dr. Monke and all the others, Samuel Lloyd, Jr. is great - listening intently to Rosemary's stories and portraying a stalwart, yet caring physician. He truly shines, though, when playing some of the other people from Ms. Clooney's life. This is particularly effective when he embodies Bing Crosby. Seeing these two interact on stage is a thrill and makes for an exciting and thoroughly satisfying evening.
Kyle Brand's direction is quite effective and he is able to balance the heightened emotions of Ms. Clooney's sessions with the fun and joyful musical numbers, all taking place in a well planned office setting (Scenic designs by Emma Cummings). Robert Tomasulo and his skilled, yet small, band captures perfectly the style and energy of the iconic numbers sung so beautifully by Ms. Haefner. Johann Fitzpatrick's lighting design helps illustrate the differences between memory and real life as does Jeffrey Salerno's sound design. And as one might expect for a show about Rosemary Clooney, Soule Golden's 1960's costumes are spot on and adds to the experience quite well.
If you love her music (who doesn't?) and want to experience some beautiful renditions of them all while learning more about this fascinating woman's life, told by a talented cast, then TENDERLY: THE Rosemary Clooney MUSICAL may just be the perfect show for you. So "Straighten Up And Fly Right" and "Come On-A" Playhouse on Park before you miss this rare gem of a musical.
TENDERLY: THE Rosemary Clooney MUSICAL runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT January 15 - February 2. For more information, Call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
All Photos: Susan Haefner and Samuel Lloyd Jr.
Photo Credit: Meredith Longo