By Daniel Skora
No female celebrity had as many fans and as much exposure during the decade of the 1950’s than Rosemary Clooney. Her recordings regularly made it to the top of the Hit Parade. Her movie career was highlighted by the now-classic “White Christmas” in which she co-starred with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. She was a frequent guest on television variety shows, eventually hosting her own program, “The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney”. But things came tumbling down in the sixties. Depression, a dependency on pills, and several failed marriages and relationships put her career on hold and forced her into treatment.
Meadow Brook Theatre is presenting “Tenderly The Rosemary Clooney Musical” in a nicely staged and superbly played production. The show features Clooney’s biggest chartings hits, including “Hey There”, “Come On-a My House”, Mambo Italiano”, “Botch-a-Me”, and “This Ole House”. And even though it manages to include enough factual background that by the time the show ends you’ve got a pretty good picture of Ms. Clooney’s life, it does so in a viewer-friendly manner.
The premise of the show is that Clooney’s pill-popping has finally gotten so bad that she’s had an onstage meltdown and been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. There she’s placed under the care of an analyst identified only as The Doctor. Clooney is belligerent at first, angry, despondent, and unwilling to admit there’s anything wrong with her. But with care and sensitivity, the doctor pulls her out of her depression by helping her relive major events in her life and learning from there outcomes. It should be noted that in spite of all the characters that swirl around Clooney’s life and are given voice in the show, the cast has only two actors. Rosemary Clooney is played by Kim Rachelle Harris, while The Doctor and all the other characters, both male and female, are played by Ron Williams.
Both Harris and Williams are spectacular, and the songs, the history, and the theatricality of how the show is presented make it a production that should not be missed. Though Harris never consistently mimics the smoky sultriness of Clooney’s voice, her powerful vocals are delivered with a commanding stage presence. Williams needs very little in terms of props or makeup to help him achieve his many characters. A scarf, a pipe, a fedora, or an ascot are all he really needs to become Clooney’s mother, sister, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jose Ferrer (the man she married twice), and others who we meet along the way who are important to the story. With the lighthearted glances that he occasionally throws out to the audience, Williams seems to be enjoying playing his female roles as much as the audience enjoys watching.
Fans of Clooney will take pleasure looking back on the career of a well-liked, multi-talented performer. Others will get to experience the no-frills style of a singer who respected both composers and their songs, and most of all liked to sing the romantic ballads. In her later years, her personal life returned to a more even keel, Clooney’s musical interests found new expressions in the field of jazz.
The show is directed by Travis W. Walter. The set is a shadow box affair replete with items that reflect Clooney’s life and career, design by Kristen Gribben. Costumes are by Corey Collins, lighting by Scott Ross, and sound by Michael Duncan. Music is provided by an onstage combo consisting of Jeffrey Campos (conductor and piano), Ryan Crum (bass), and Nick Matthews (percussion). Stage manager is Terry W. Carpenter, assisted by Sarah Lynn Warren.
Book, music, and lyrics for “Tenderly The Rosemary Clooney Musical” are by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The show runs through March 11th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.248.377.3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in the city of Rochester.