Ask anyone under fifty years of age who Rosemary Clooney is and they’re likely to respond “George Clooney’s wife?” They’d be in the ballpark (she was his aunt) but what they probably don’t know is that she was an immensely popular musical performer who charted numerous hit songs in the 50’s and 60’s. Changes in the musical landscape combined with a struggle with mental health issues led to her star fading. After an onstage breakdown and years of therapy, she was the rare performer who managed a ‘second act’ in showbiz when she turned to jazz. She continued to perform and record until her death in 2002.
Composers, lyricists and playwrights Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman use Clooney’s breakdown as the jumping off point for Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical, playing now at Napa’s Lucky Penny Community Arts Center. The show uses the framing device of Clooney’s therapy sessions to tell her tale.
After melting down during a Reno, Nevada performance, Rosemary Clooney (Taylor Bartolucci) finds herself in the care of psychiatrist Dr. Victor Monke (Barry Martin). At first reluctant, she soon finds herself opening up about her upbringing, her waning career, her failed marriages, and the struggles with addiction and depression that led to the breakdown.
It’s a standard showbiz melodrama wrapped up in the songs for which Clooney’s known, like “Hey There”, “Botch-A-me”, Come On-A My House”, “Mambo Italiano”, and the title tune. Bartolucci gives a restrained performance as Clooney, which is appropriate given the intimate performing space and subject matter.
Martin is challenged by not only playing her confessor, but every other person that Clooney encounters in her life including her mother, her sister, her uncle, various radio station employees, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the twice-married-to Jose Ferrer.
Shifts in time and location are indicated by simple lighting changes and character transformations for Martin are expressed with slight costume modifications – a purse for mother, a pipe for Crosby, a jacket slung over the shoulder for Sinatra. Some characters read better than others (Martin does a pretty good Crosby) as the script keeps these characters superficial. It’s their effect on Clooney that matters.
One’s enjoyment of jukebox musicals is often dependent on one’s enjoyment of the specific style of music involved and how well it’s represented on stage. Music Director Craig Burdette, his three piece combo and performer Bartolucci represent Clooney and her style well.
Lucky Penny’s Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical brings a little luster back to Rosemary Clooney’s faded star.
‘Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical’ plays Thursday–Sunday through March 11, at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thursday, 7pm; Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $28–$39. 707.266.6305.
As originally published in edited form in the North Bay Bohemian
Photo by Kurt Gonsalves