Tenderly – the Rosemary Clooney Story – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Despite being raised in a broken home, in poverty, in Maysville, Kentucky, when Rosemary Clooney opened her mouth pure sunshine shone forth with joy. Until Sunday, February 2, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford is issuing a gracious invitation to “Come on- a My House” to personally meet this sweetheart of a songbird. Rosemary Clooney called Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Kennedy and Merv Griffin close personal friends. A portrait of her life, the sunny days and the lunar eclipses that darkened many of her nights, is being displayed in all its trials and triumphs in grand musical style. Come learn about a simple girl with a big dream, who looked for laughter and love and found loneliness and loss, who sang like a nightingale with warmth and honesty, and experienced more ups and downs in life than the carnival’s roller coaster. Music is woven in, out and around this personal story by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” and it is revealing in all its intimate details.

Susan Haefner is Rosie, a wonderful artist who brings her to life with sincerity and grace. She sings like an angel and creates her with poignancy and power. The daughter of a mother who abandons her and an alcoholic father who was also absent, Rosemary and her sister Betty were forced to support themselves at an early age. Entering and winning a talent contest saved them from starvation and started them early on a career that for Rosie would span decades.

We learn about her big band time, her love affairs and marriages, her successes on the stage and in films, and her addictions to pills that threatened everything she had. Along the way we are blessed with a multitude of songs, like “Sisters,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Botch-a-Me,” “How About You?” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

Samuel Lloyd, Jr. does a yeoman job as a multitude of characters in Rosie’s life, from her personal therapist, Dr. Victor Monke, after she has a nervous breakdown, to her mother, her sister Betty, her husband Jose Ferrer and more, all with a scarf, a pocketbook, a hat or a pipe. An onstage orchestra of Kevin Huhn, Elliot Wallace, Robert Tomasulo and Kevin Barlowski provides great backup for the parade of tunes. Kyle Brand directs this involving show that proves Rosemary Clooney’s bravery and optimism when she sings “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and her advice to herself in “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

For tickets ($40-$50), call the Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5000. ext. 10 or online at: www.playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Tuesday at 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Sunday matinee is followed by a talk back with the cast.

Come learn the legacy, the challenges and the courage that Rosemary Clooney gathered around her and gave so generously to the world. She will be well remembered and loved so tenderly.