My house was a “White Christmas” house growing up. We loved the movie and watched it even in July sometimes. Beyond that, though, my context of Rosemary Clooney was in her later years on talk shows like Regis and Kathie Lee at the holidays, still singing and showing off her wicked sense of humor. Perhaps that is why that even though I was definitely one of the younger folks in attendance at opening night of TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL I know how good Susan Haefner is in bringing the “girl singer” to life.
Clooney’s story is full of tragedy and darkness; she survived a neglectful mother, an addiction to pills, and difficult relationships. In this version of her story, though, she nearly always maintains that spark of hopefulness. I liked it.
There are some problems with the script; at times the show drags between songs especially in Act Two but the performances of Haefner and Michael Marotta are enough to overcome the less interesting moments. Both of them do a fine job with impersonations (Haefner’s singing sounds so much like Clooney I bet if I closed my eyes I wouldn’t have known the difference) and Marotta does a fine job playing multiple characters (including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Clooney’s mother), distinguishing between them enough that I was never confused as to who he portraying moment to moment.
Of course the music is great. It is from another era full of ballads, which could get old if it weren’t for the marvelous work of musical director Scot Wooley and band. While I couldn’t see them from my seat at the top of the side of the theatre (a problem in this space is that lack of visibility if using the deep parts of the stage), I could hear them just fine. Some superb musicianship is happening here. I also enjoyed the choreography for Dee Anne Bryll (who is also choreographing A CHRISTMAS CAROL across the lobby and SLEEPING BEAUTY at Ensemble Theatre this season).
The audience around me seemed to really enjoy themselves, bursting into applause at “White Christmas” and getting lost in the various concert scenes as if we were transported back to an era were music was more elegant. The finale is a rousing, foot stomping rendition of “This Old House” that ends a beautiful evening of classic songs and wonderful memories.
Rosemary Clooney is Cincinnati royalty and there is a well deserved reverence being shown her memory without sugar coating some of her tragedies. I think its well done. The show’s run has already been extended, even before opening night so I know this will be a commercial success for the Playhouse. If you want to see it, you better call the Box Office today; its selling out night after night.
TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL plays through January 4th at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Click here for more information.