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Review of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical

Katie Ray and Fed Zanni in Tenderly – The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Katie Ray and Fed Zanni in Tenderly – The Rosemary Clooney Musical

They don’t quite get as far as taking out the jazz hands in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, though it’s celebratory enough when it wants to be, to get an opening night audience clapping along to its beat. The show’s subtitle, “based on the life of Rosemary Clooney”, allows the show sufficient creative licence to deviate from the true story, whatever that true story might be – the operative words being ‘based on’. Mind you, I didn’t detect anything that could be deemed untrue in the narrative.

If the show comes across as needing to be a little more grounded, the mental instability of Rosemary Clooney (Katie Ray) after her early commercial success parallels the uneven structure of the show. This could be performed as a ‘straight through, no interval’ production – as I understand it, at least one previous production in the United States had no ‘intermission’. That an interval appears in this production has its benefits, however: such is the intensity of the show that the need for a breather comes at just the right time.

The sound in this production is well-controlled. Despite the intimate setting, the ‘concert’ performances successfully give the impression that the audience is somehow transported to being in a substantially larger venue. I would have liked to have seen more of this device used, though this is purely a matter of personal preference, and would not, either way, make anything more than a negligible difference to the plot.

Dr Victor Monk (Fed Zanni) attempts a psychological assessment on Clooney, which works initially as some sort of Freudian attempt is made to link childhood experiences to adult behaviour. To do this, some reminiscing, and dramatization, of childhood experience is required. Zanni also voices a large number of periphery characters, and quite convincingly, considering the range of characters under the umbrella term ‘Everyone Else’ goes from close relatives to fellow showbiz personalities.

The seamless transitions from song to spoken and back again were in abundance in the first half, and it is regrettable that in Act Two, such is the level of spoken dialogue that I am inclined to refer to this production as a ‘play with music’ rather than a ‘musical’. That said, Clooney’s emotions are better displayed through the show’s torch songs. Either way, the duo make full use of the available performance space, flanked by an on-stage band led by Simon Holt. They are all altogether flawless.

As it is, the songs are a pleasure to listen to, and there’s an intriguing juxtaposition going on between the cheeriness and jauntiness of tunes such as ‘Come On-a My House’ and ‘Mambo Italiano’ and the darker personal life story being told. It’s a while before the show goes into overdrive. In the eventual portrayal of the personal struggles and proverbial demons Clooney wrestles with, the production is at its most poignant and powerful. No prior knowledge of Clooney’s life and career is required before seeing this production; at the same time there is still much to be enjoyed (and reminisced) by those familiar with her life story.

This, then, is an intimate and intriguing tale of triumphing over adversity. It could have been slightly more atmospheric, but all things considered, it’s a spirited and heartfelt production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Joseph Hodges presents the UK Premiere of Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical.
In Tenderly, Rosemary Clooney’s journey starts with her simple Maysville, Kentucky childhood and follows her rise to Hollywood stardom. With her signature songs woven in and out, we learn both the story of her successes on film, radio, and TV, as well as her struggles in her personal life – with a career fading during the advent of rock-and-roll and her battles with addiction and depression. Audiences stand and cheer as they rejoice at her triumphant comeback and even more successful career as a jazz singer.

Featuring all of your favourite Clooney hits including Someone to Watch Over Me, Hey There (you with the stars in your eyes), Mambo Italiano, Sway, Come On-A My House, and the unforgettable title track Tenderly.

Katie Ray stars as the iconic Rosemary Clooney whose recent theatre credits include Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet (UK Tour), Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (UK Tour), Liesl in The Sound of Music (London Palladium), and the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (New London Theatre).

Fed Zanni plays Clooney’s Doctor amid other roles including Clooney’s lovers. His recent theatre credits include The 12 Tenors (European Tour), Somewhere in England (New Wimbledon Theatre) and Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Tenderly – The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Friday 1st to Saturday 23rd September 2017
New Wimbedlon Studio Theatre

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