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Review: TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY STORY at Ensemble Theatre Company

This play is a concert experience with a live band that weaves songs from Ms. Clooney's heyday into a birth-to-death narrative of her life.

Review: TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY STORY at Ensemble Theatre Company
PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Kuhlmann

Ensemble Theatre Company re-opens the doors at the New Vic with their production of Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical. This play is a concert experience with a live band that weaves songs from Ms. Clooney's heyday into a birth-to-death narrative of her life. Directed by Jenny Sullivan, Tenderly runs through October 24th.

For people of a certain age, Rosemary Clooney is a name that sparks little recognition. She was a girl-next-door chanteuse in the 1950s who made famous several novelty songs, and starred in the popular film White Christmas along with Bing Crosby. She had a lovely voice and an appealing persona, and made a nice career for herself as a vocalist and host of variety-type shows on TV and radio. Later, in her private life, she suffered from mental illness and a pill addiction, and had a stint in the hospital after a public altercation with fans at a Reno show.

Review: TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY STORY at Ensemble Theatre Company
PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Kuhlmann
Linda Purl and David Engel star in the Ensemble Theatre Company's Southern California premiere production of "TENDERLY: THE Rosemary Clooney MUSICAL" PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Kuhlmann

This is where Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical begins. It's a two-actor show, with Linda Purl as Rosemary and David Engel as a menagerie of characters including Rosemary's family members, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the other main character of this play: Rosemary's psychiatrist. Both actors put in good performances--Engel moves seamlessly from one character to the next, and Purl has a nice voice--but the play itself is forgettable. The therapy sessions that make up the bones of the narrative are purely biographical, and told entirely by Rosemary. Writing-wise, it's a lazy way to tell Rosemary's story from soup to nuts ("Let's start with your childhood") and it offers no interpersonal conflict, because it's essentially a memory re-telling: nothing is happening in the present moment. The material is not interesting enough to warrant the two-plus hours spent in Rosemary's therapy sessions.

The appeal of this show is that people who were fans of Rosemary Clooney, who has been dead now since 2002, can see a proxy of her sing her music. Which I have no problem with at all--and for those who are fans of Ms. Clooney, I'm happy you get a song-play in her likeness--but the interstitial material between the spattering of songs is too weak for this production to stand on its own once the memory of Ms. Clooney has faded from social view.

Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Book and Lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman
Directed by Jenny Sullivan

At Ensemble Theatre Company

October 7-24



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