Rosemary Clooney’s luminous grace and soothing voice are the perfection of elegance. Her soft smile and glittering evening gowns project a serene existence of glamorous parties and siren songs when she appears with legends such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
Beneath the carefully pruned projection, however, is a lonely woman who was abandoned as a child, disrespected by her philandering husband, and haunted by the violent assassination of her friend Robert F. Kennedy after she was near enough to hear the screams and watch him being rushed away.
This is the story told in the Lucky Penny Productions new show, “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical,” by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, which opened last weekend at the Community Arts center and runs through March 11.
Moving through a nervous breakdown, denial and ultimate redemption, she is able to reject the assumption of “always being what someone else wants you to be.” Clooney emerges into a revitalized career as a jazz singer, with the assistance of her psychologist, Dr. Victor Monke.
Director Dyan McBride said she has come to love Clooney’s “spirit, determination, fragility and dedication to those she loved.”
Lucky Penny Productions founders Taylor Bartolucci and Barry Martin relive her story through flashbacks, as Martin takes on a wide range of characters, from flirtatious Betty Clooney in feathered fan wielding “Sisters” to a suave Bing Crosby for “It’s Only a Paper Moon” choreographed by Staci Arriaga.
Bartolucci embraces her role as Clooney, delicately poised as the confident public persona and trembling with nervous fidgeting while revealing her troubled marriage. Bartolucci’s sweet tones match Clooney’s well, and she captures the spirit of her character, allowing the heartache and triumphal recovery to shine through a vulnerable performance with a touch of sassy repartee.
Reminiscent of the Ed Sullivan Show, the vintage style set of burnt sienna curtains, velveteen lounges, and an arch above the three-piece band allows for swift location transitions. Craig Burdette leads the first-rate gathering of musicians, layering jazzy dance numbers with melodic interludes. April George’s lighting design strobes against Clooney’s shattered psyche, and emphasizes flashback scenes with gently gradating spotlight effects.
‘Tenderly’ pushes the boundaries of a jukebox musical, developing an emotionally resonant production. Although Vogt and Friedman take their time writing the buildup, Bartolucci is riveting in her gradual unravelling during the second act, using the music to elaborate on her inner struggle. “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” leaves a melancholy note hanging in the air after she leaves the stage.
Clooney’s challenging childhood, growing up with whomever would take her in, placed enforced maturity on the young girl, already responsible for her siblings. Through a combination of imagination and sheer willpower, she and Betty managed to launch a sister act traveling around the country. This fierce independence works against her when admitting to Dr. Monke that she needs help. “Only weak people need therapy” she insists, rejecting his assistance, despite her complete breakdown at a recent performance.
Lucky Penny’s musical journey ‘Tenderly’ is delightful, with enchanting Rosemary Clooney songs and engaging insights into her personal struggles.
Tickets are $39 for general, $34 seniors and $28 for students, for reservations and information, call (707) 266-6305 or go online to luckypennynapa.com. Lucky Penny Productions Community Arts Center is at 1758 Industrial Way, Napa.