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West Coast premiere of “Tenderly The Rosemary Clooney Musical” at Center Rep

Lynda DiVito is Rosemary Clooney and

is touching and entertaining.

Rosemary Clooney 30 year career is explored in TENDERLY, now on stage at the Center Repertory Company's West Coast premiere production at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts. I was ready for a disappointing evening based on just seeing the Ethel Merman jukebox musical that failed. “TENDERLY The Rosemary Clooney Musical” does not fail, this touching portrayal goes beyond the basic jukebox. Writers Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman use not only her greatest hits but a new song was written “Are You in Love Again” that blends amazingly well into Clooney's 1940’ 50’s song list. Directed by Jenny Sullivan she keeps the show moving with only two characters keeping the tunes stylised with a three piece band. The talented Lynda DiVito is Rosemary and Mark Farrell plays all the other roles from male to female.

The story spans 30 years and goes from her early days to her final days before her Hollywood Bowl comeback. DiVito handles all of it without costume changes, wigs or other stage tricks to show aging. Her body language as the years progress is impressive. The story is simple and based on her well publicized nervous break down Clooney suffered, her psychiatrist (Farrell) guides her through her life story. All the flashbacks include Farrell who does switch out simple costumes and wigs. At times he does steal the stage with his perfect impressions of Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Bing Crosby, Jose Ferrer, Clooney's mom and sister Betty. Watching Farrell switch characters sometimes two or three time in less than 30 seconds is a pleasure and show stopper. Lynda DiVito’s performance as Clooney is appealing and her voice captures Clooney’s wonderful sound. DiVito also is excellent creating Clooney’s tumultuous emotional ride, including her crash of mind after Bobby Kennedy's death that she witnessed.

DiVito and Farrell have a marvelous onstage timing. She carries the vocal strength for the nearly two dozen songs. DiVito goes from a perky teenage singer to midlife crisis women in her 40’s breaking down on stage. Director Sullivans lively staging keeps the story moving on a wonderful band shell nightclub setting designed by Nina Ball. The deco design also morfs into the Hollywood bowl and is superb with the band built into the design. The lighting by Kurt Landisman keeps the emotional mood of the drama from Clooney’s history and the glamor, to her on stage performance. Music director Steve Blum arranged the piece band and is on stage for the two hours. The music is one of the stars of this story and his team brings that for each of the many numbers in this jukebox musical.

Clooney is best known for "Mambo Italiano," "Botch-a-Me" and "Come on-a My House," George and Ira Gershwin’s "Someone to Watch Over Me", Harold Arlen "It's Only a Paper Moon", Irving Berlin "Sisters", Nat King Cole "Straighten Up and Fly Right", Hoagy Carmichael "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and DiVito brings all these classics home. The sold out opening night audience loved her performance also arranged by Brandon Adams. Clooney quotes band leader Mitch Miller “ I remember Mitch Miller saying every week, this rock and roll stuff will never last. It's not music it is a disease”. As with most jukebox bio’s the songs are used to tell the story, yet in this case some of the tunes are sung in concert form, to the delight of the audience.

The final performance is heart warming and “This Ole House” is a perfect way to end her impressive story. The production team for this musical is impressive, with a two actor show, by the end we feel we have seen a whole cast. I did want to mention the light dance moves by the couple, choreographed by Jennifer Perry, who keeps it simple but elegant. The costumes by Maggie Morgan who especially highlights Clooney’s Hollywood Bowl concert, with the classic long drape gowns that she was famous for. This is an impressive accomplishment, and the musical is touching, emotional and very entertaining. Lynda DiVito creates a wonderful Rosemary Clooney. It runs through October 10th, and is the perfect fall show to add to your theatre calendar.

Center Repertory Company Presents


By Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman,

Directed by Jenny Sullivan,

Music Direction by Steve Blum and Brandon Adams

Through: Oct. 10, 2015

Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek

Running time: 1 hours and 55 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $37-$63; 925-943-7469,

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