“I'LL KEEP WORKING AS LONG AS I LIVE BECAUSE SINGING HAS TAKEN ON THE FEELING OF JOY THAT I HAD WHEN I STARTED, WHEN MY ONLY RESPONSIBILITY WAS TO SING WELL” (Rosemary Clooney)
The Altarena Playhouse opens their 2017 season with yet another charming jukebox just after closing the revue “The Taffetas.” Now we are back in the 40’s with the amazing Rosemary Clooney TENDERLY, now on stage at the Altarena Playhouse stage in Alameda Ca. through Feb 12th. Clooney’s 30 year career is explored in this charming 2 hour musical featuring just two actors, the polished Kim Schroeder Long, and the dapper multitasking, Dan Kapler. I was ready for a disappointing evening based on seeing the mediocre 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 Rachel Robinson she keeps the show moving with only two characters keeping the tunes stylised with a three piece band. The talented Long is Rosemary and has a first rate voice for some of Rose’s classic tunes. Kapler plays all the other roles from her famous psychiatrist to her sister, Betty.
The story spans 30 years and goes from her early days to her final days before her Hollywood Bowl comeback. The over medicated super star suffers a nervous breakdown in an onstage meltdown in a Lake Tahoe night club not long after Bobby Kennedy's death. She seeks psychiatric help and tells her story in therapy sessions that are the main text of the dialog in this bio tale. Director Robinson says “Ms. Clooney, or Rosie,- had a habit of taking in strays. Her friends, her children’s friends, distant relative - everyone always had a place to stay in her house on Roxbury Dr. But this openness and warmth didn’t come without a price” Rosemary is famous for saying ‘I’m the only instrument that’s got the words, so I’ve got the to be able to get that across.’”
Long handles all the costume changes, designed by Clay David, very smoothly as she enters from the various entrances on the small Altarena stage. Stage tricks to show aging were not needed. Her body language as the years progress is impressive. The story is simple and based on the well publicized nervous break down Clooney suffered; her psychiatrist (Kapler) guides her through her life story. All the flashbacks include Kapler who does switch out simple costumes and wigs. At times he steals the stage with his perfect impressions of Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Bing Crosby, Jose Ferrer, Clooney's mom and sister, Betty. Watching Kapler switch characters sometimes two or three times in less than 30 seconds is a pleasure and show stopper. Kim Schroeder Long’s performance as Clooney is appealing and her voice captures Clooney’s wonderful voice. Long also is excellent creating Clooney’s tumultuous emotional ride, including her crash of mind after she witnessed Bobby Kennedy's death.
Long and Kapler have a marvelous onstage timing. She carries the vocal strength for the nearly two dozen songs. Long goes from a perky teenage singer to midlife crisis woman in her 40’s breaking down on stage. Director Robinson’s lively staging keeps the story moving on a wonderful band, nightclub setting designed by APH artistic director, Clay David. The deco design also morfs into the doctor's office and is superb with the band built into the design. The lighting by Courtney Johnson keeps the emotional mood of the drama from Clooney’s history and the glamor to her on stage performance, her light design also shows off her quaint gowns and dresses.
Music director, Mark Dietrich, arranged the three piece band including Lislie Throne on bass and Roberta Drake/Joanne Romeo switching out on smooth drums. Dietrich interacts with Rosemary at times as she deals with her many moods. 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’s "It's Only a Paper Moon", Irving Berlin’s "Sisters", Nat King Cole’s "Straighten Up and Fly Right", Hoagy Carmichael’s "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and Long brings all these classics home. The sold out weekend audience loved her performance also choreographed by Megan McGrath. 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. I noticed many of the silver hair members of the crowd wanting to sing along with Rose.
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 two, choreographed by McGrath, who keeps it simple but elegant. The costumes also by David who especially highlights Clooney’s Hollywood Bowl concert, with the classic long draped gowns that she was famous for. This is an impressive accomplishment, and the musical is touching, emotional and very entertaining, Kim Schroeder Long creates a wonderful Rosemary Clooney. Long’s takes you on Rosie’s journey and makes you an instant fan and who only wants to root for her.TENDERLY is a wonderful musical for APH to open the 2017 season of shows. Look for BE MY BABY a comedy from writer Ken Ludwig that opens March 10th, and look for OKLAHOMA this fall.
Altarena Playhouse Presents
THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL'
By Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman,
Directed by Rachel Robinson, Music Direction by Mark Dietrich
Choreographed by Megan McGrath
Kim Schroeder Long and Dan Kapler
Through February 12, 2017
Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 2 hours,
510-523-1553, or click on
Photos by Jim Norrena ACT OUT Photography
The Merv Griffin segment dramatized in the musical, the start of her comeback
Rosemary performed this song on The Merv Griffin Show March 17, 1975. When Rosemary passed away Larry King played this clip as a tribute to her on his show. This performance is from a time in her life when she was just beginning to get back into show business after some time away from it.