What the critics are saying:

Review: Rosemary Clooney's bittersweet life and music celebrated in Center Rep's 'Tenderly'

By Sam Hurwitt

Posted: 09/09/2015 11:18:07 AM PDT

"Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" is that most familiar of creatures -- a jukebox musical breezing through the greatest hits of a pop star's songbook and life story. It's one of the most common types of new musicals, along with stage adaptations of popular movies. Written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, "Tenderly" has a charmingly simple setup: Clooney had a nervous breakdown in the middle of a concert and has been hospitalized, so she's telling her life story to her psychiatrist as part of her treatment. In the process, the shrink keeps morphing into every other character in her life.


It takes a deft hand to keep this kind of biographical recap from feeling overly artificial. Fortunately, Center Repertory Company's West Coast premiere production at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts is wonderfully polished, in a vibrant staging by Jenny Sullivan.

Lynda DiVito is an upbeat, wisecracking Clooney with a marvelous voice, and Mark Farrell smoothly shifts between the aloof doctor and a multitude of entertaining characters, including Rosie's buoyant younger sister and distant mother, seductive husband Jose Ferrer, urbane and unflappable friend Bing Crosby, and blunt and blasé confidant Frank Sinatra.

Although best known for novelty numbers in a Chico Marx-style fake Italian accent, such as "Mambo Italiano," "Botch-a-Me" and "Come on-a My House," Clooney was a versatile pop and jazz singer, and DiVito superbly sings a wide variety of classic tunes by George and Ira Gershwin ("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 others.

When Vogt and Friedman sneak an original song into the mix ("Are You in Love Again") it fits in so naturally with the 1940s and 1950s songs that it could fool you into thinking it's a lesser-known B-side from Clooney's back catalog.

A terrific three-piece jazz band led by pianist and musical director Steve Blum provides swinging accompaniment in an elegant bandshell set by Nina Ball.

A few of the songs are presented as actual concert performances, but most of them are sung in scenes, thematically linked to the star's romances and heartbreaks. Choreographer Jennifer Perry provides just a charming dash of playful dancing here and there to keep things lively.

The story the play actually tells about Clooney is not terribly dramatic: She had abandonment issues, a bad marriage and a pill-popping problem, she was traumatized by the assassination of her friend Robert F. Kennedy, and she eventually got over these things. The therapy framework helps turn these things into an actual story rather than just a series of events, but any real emotional weight is carried by the torch songs DiVito's Clooney sings (often with an assist from Farrell), and they bear it well.

The cast and creative team also do a great job of aging the characters remarkably convincingly (Judy Disbrow's wigs deserve a hat tip here, or perhaps a tip of the toupee would be more appropriate). There's a slightly confusing bit at the end when it seems as if the weary doctor is about to reveal something about himself and then doesn't, but it doesn't matter much. By then the revitalized Clooney has launched into her boisterous hit "This Ole House," and everything else is soon forgotten.


TENDERLY: The Rosemary Clooney Musical well worth seeing at Center REP

By Kedar K. Adour, MD

Posted: 09/09/2015 11:18:07 AM PDT

Late in the second act of the entertaining biographical Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, Rosemary wonders if her style of music as a jazz vocalist had become passé suggested in "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair." To the present younger generation of music lovers the answer is probably yes. However a trip to Center REP to see their production with marvelous Lynda DiVito and the multitalented Mark Farrell may earn some converts. This nostalgic bitter sweet evening earned a standing ovation from a mostly older audience but does not quite earn a “must see rating.” But hey, there is nothing wrong with a “should see” designation.

As usual the production values at Center REP are superb with a stunning band shell stage (Nina Ball) and a tremendously talented on stage trio with musical director Steve Blum on the piano to accompany the many musical numbers that bring back memories and often are integrated into the personal life story. That life story is a paean to a talented singer whose perseverance carried her through the 50 years as an icon pop and jazz performer overcoming depression and drug addiction.

The story line written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman uses the interesting device of having Clooney, after a mental breakdown during a performance in Reno, reluctantly admitting herself to a psychiatric clinic and unburdening her life story. The shrink identified only as “The Doctor” (Mark Farrell) becomes various characters, both male and female, in her life. Some of those characters include younger sister Betty, unapproachable mother, brother Nick, staunch supporter Bing Crosby, confidant Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffen and women chasing husband Jose Ferrer. Many of songs often amplify the emotional events.

Clooney’s most notable songs are performed brilliantly by DiVito and include her best known novelty numbers "Mambo Italiano", "Botch-a-Me" and "Come On-A My House." Other numbers are "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and title song "Tenderly."

Lynda DiVito and Mark Farrell fit hand-in-glove with extra applause with their two numbers of “Sisters” and the "Hawaiian War Chant" (Tas-Hu-Wa-Hu-Wai) humorously staged by choreographer Jennifer Perry. Humor is needed to soften the facts of Rosemary Clooney’s hectic but brilliant life. Running time is two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

The performances of Lynda DiVito and Mark Farrell backed up by a great musical trio plus Center REP’s classy production creates a “should see evening.”


Center REP's "Tenderly" Hits all the Right Notes!

By Jan Miller

Posted: 09/11/15

Legendary singer and actress Rosemary Clooney was an American entertainment icon for almost five decades during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Now, her story comes alive on the Dean Lesher Theatre stage in Center REPertory Company’s two-player production of “Tenderly.” This is an inspiring and insightful new musical that follows Clooney’s rise to stardom, her struggles with life’s challenges, and her triumphant resurgence.

The multi-talented Lynda DiVito’s portrayal of Rosemary Clooney is superb throughout. She not only possesses a wonderful singing voice, but her dramatic skills during scenes when her character has mental breakdowns is most convincing.

Clooney’s story is a fascinating one, both professionally as well as personally, chronicling her family relationships and her marriages. She came to prominence in the early 1950s with a number of pop hits, but then her career began to languish a decade later, partly due to depression and drug addiction. However, her career was revived in the late ‘70s when her “White Christmas” co-star Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him at a show marking his 50th anniversary in show business. She continued recording until her death in 2002.

The unheralded yet charismatic Mark Farrell’s part listed in the program is that of “The Doctor” (Clooney’s psychiatrist). Yet he does much more than that -- he plays multiple characters… everyone from Rosemary’s sister Betty, to her mother, to Jose Ferrer, to Bing Crosby, to Frank Sinatra, to Merv Griffin, etc., and he convincingly changes the demeanor of each character almost instantly. Brilliantly done! In doing so, Farrell really steals the show!

Not to be overlooked is the one-set choreography by Jennifer Perry, which takes one back in time to offer the feeling of being in a ‘50s nightclub setting. The musical direction by Steve Blum blends perfectly with the entire production.

Overall, “Tenderly” is thoroughly entertaining, captivating the audience from beginning to end (with a 15 minute intermission). I wouldn’t hesitate to say it is one of the best theatrical productions I have seen this year, with both Lynda DiVito and Mark Farrell being outstanding. This is a must-see show!


West Coast Premiere of "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" at Center REP

By Vince Mediaa

Posted: 09/10/2015

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’s - 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 woman in her 40’s breaking down on stage. Director Sullivan's lively staging keeps the story moving on a wonderful band shell nightclub setting designed by Nina Ball. The deco design also morphs 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 glamour, 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. 



By Bonnie Weiss

Posted: 10/2015

“Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” is a two person retrospective on the life of one of the most popular girl singers to emerge from the post WW2 era. Though Clooney’s career spanned over 50 years with many hit records, her personal life was filled with turmoil, addiction to prescription drugs and a full nervous breakdown shortly after witnessing the assassination of her friend, Robert F. Kennedy.

 Playwrights Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman have found a way to include both the joys of her musical triumphs with the dark side of her personal life in a manner. that is satisfying and original.

The story opens with her on-stage breakdown and then moves to her psychiatrist’s office where she is called forth to recall the incidents in her life that led to her ultimate meltdown.  Though this may sound dark and heavy, it is staged in a manner that allows for many moments of comic relief as well as some fine singing and dancing.

Much of the comic relief comes from the fact that the actor playing the rather stolid psychiatrist (Mark Farrell) mutates in a flash into all the other supporting characters in Clooney’s story – from her younger sister Betty, to her mother, her actor-husband Jose Ferrar to her pals Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.  Some of these roles give Farrell an opportunity to display his talent as a crooner and a hoofer.  Some of the most entertaining musical moments in the show come when he duets with Lynda DiVito, who plays Clooney.

Speaking of Miss DiVito, she proves to be a powerful dramatic actress in the emotionally charged scenes and has a vibrant, resonant singing voice as well. However she sounds nothing like Clooney, whose voice was actually smaller, with a more limited range.  But Clooney had a warm, intimate tone and casual style that made listeners feel as if they could curl up and relax within that serene sound.  DeVito’s sound evokes more of a desire to get up and dance, which is not a bad thing.  

DiVito does a solid job on the Clooney repertoire – including Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me”, Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings”, Hoagy Carmichael's “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and, of course, the title song.   She can also belt with the best on the comic Italian numbers “Come On-a My House” (which figures in Clooney’s melt down), “Mambo Italiano”,  and the rousing “This Old House”.

Director Jenny Sullivan keeps the show moving at a lively pace and creates smooth transitions and easeful integration between the darker and lighter scenes. Scot Woolley’s musical arrangements and Steve Blum’s musical direction are true to the era in which they were written and beautifully support the singers and are a delight in their own right.

Jennifer Perry’s choreography adds just the right amount of charm and whimsy to the production.  Nina Ball’s central set – an attractive Art Deco style band shell,  transforms to several different performance venues via the magic of lighting designer Kurt Landisman.  Maggie Morgan’s costumes seem to perfectly reflect Clooney’s own wardrobe choices and Judy Disbrow’s wigs reflect her hairstyle changes from the 40’s through the early 21st century.

In the end “Tenderly” proves to be both a moving biography of a beloved songstress and a tribute to her triumph over adversity.  What’s more, it offers an opportunity to enjoy fine performances of some of the treasures of The Great American Songbook.



My Cultural Landscape

By George Heymont

Posted: 09/13/2015

Center Rep in Walnut Creek opened its 2015-2016 season at the Lesher Center for the Arts with a new production of Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, this is essentially a "flashback" musical biography in which Lynda DiVito embodies one of America's favorite pop and jazz singers while Mark Farrell embodies some of the men and women in her life.

For those who remember Rosemary Clooney as the svelte, energetic belter who recorded such best-selling songs as "Come-On-A-My House," "Mambo Italiano," "Tenderly," and "Hey There," this show (which delves into Clooney's pill-popping history, bipolar disorder, unhappy marriage to José Ferrer, and her financial woes) may come as a bit of a surprise. The story, however, is public knowledge, having been described in Clooney's two autobiographies (1977's This For Remembrance: the Autobiography of Rosemary Clooney, an Irish-American Singer and 1999's Girl Singer: An Autobiography).

Born in 1928 in Maysville, Kentucky, Clooney and her sister, Betty, were left behind with relatives when her mother moved to Los Angeles with Rosemary's brother, Nick. After beginning her career on radio in Cincinnati, Clooney moved up to singing with Tony Pastor's band. She soon became a familiar face on television as well as a popular recording artist who appeared in nightclubs across America. On the silver screen, she appeared with Lauritz Melchior and Anna Maria Alberghetti in 1953's The Stars Are Singing and co-starred with Vera-Ellen, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye in 1954's White Christmas.

An enthusiastic Democrat, Clooney heard the shots fired by Sirhan Sirhan when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968 in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. In July 1968, she suffered a nervous breakdown while performing in Reno, Nevada. She was hospitalized following her breakdown and, following her release, continued in psychoanalysis for the next eight years in order to deal with issues of drug dependency and abandonment.

Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical was first featured as part of the 2010 New Works Festival at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio. The show received its official world premiere in Spring of 2012 from Dayton's Victoria Theatre Association.

Directed by Jenny Sullivan on a simple and attractive unit set designed by Nina Ball, Center Rep's production benefits immensely from Scot Woolley's musical arrangements, Steve Blum's music direction, and the musical supervision of Brandon Adams.

The restrained sound design by Jeff Mockus helps to keep the audience's focus on the music without ever becoming oppressive. Although the drama makes this show a little more unsettling than the average jukebox musical, Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical is a fairly spartan production that keeps its two principals on the run.

That leads to two curious problems. Although Lynda DiVito is a reliably strong actress and has no trouble belting out many songs, a second costume change (either late in Act I or early in Act II) would bring more variety to her performance than merely putting on or taking off a sweater. The real challenge, however, is how to keep the show's focus on the character of Rosemary Clooney.

In its current form, Mark Farrell -- who switches back and forth between playing Rosemary's mother, her sister Betty, her psychoanalyst, her first husband (Jose Ferrer), her second husband (Dante DiPaolo) as well as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra -- ends up demonstrating greater versatility and gaining more audience sympathy than DiVito's driven portrayal of Rosemary Clooney. It's a curious imbalance, which sometimes serves well as a dramatic foil and, at other times, subtly steals the spotlight away from Clooney.


Rosemary Clooney Encores in Walnut Creek

By Robert Hall

Elvis did her in.  For that matter, so did Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and dozens of other rock ’n’ roll stars.  She had been one of the big names in pop music—she had two top hits on the same recording: “Tenderly” on one side and “Come On-a My House” on the other.  She was a TV regular, appearing with the likes of Ed Sullivan, and she eventually got her own show.  She made movies, too, notably White Christmas opposite Bing Crosby.

But when the pulsing, heavy-beat, teen-oriented new music arrived in the 1950s, her career tanked, along with those of lots of experts at The Great American Songbook.  Cole Porter couldn’t compete with “Blue Suede Shoes” on the record charts. and when her professional life took a nose dive, so did she, into depression and pills, leading to a breakdown live onstage.

She is Rosemary Clooney.  Young people may know her, if they know her at all, as George Clooney’s aunt, but she was once a big star, and though she died in 2002,  she’s been expertly revived at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, in a show called Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical.

One of those biographical stage shows that trace a person’s life, this one, assembled by Janet Yates and Mark Friedman, is set during the therapy sessions Clooney endured for eight years after her breakdown.  In it a psychiatric doctor asks probing questions that lead her to tell her story, punctuated with songs that include her hits (“Sisters,” “Mambo Italiano,” “Hey There”) along with lesser known numbers that reflect moments in her life.

How accurate is the show?  Hard to say.  It’s an entertainment, after all, and you can’t help being aware how artificial its structure is and how it’s shaped to a predictable rise-and-fall-and-rise pattern.

Of course Clooney did rise after her career sank, refashioning herself as a jazz singer.

The show is expertly constructed.  Playing Clooney, Lynda DeVito doesn’t look much like the singer and doesn’t sound much like her either, though a vocal match would be expecting too much.  She has a pleasant voice, at its best when it’s in a quieter mode in numbers like “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” and she retails Clooney’s story nicely—she’s game and she dances well.

But though she’s the main star of the two-person endeavor, she’s often upstaged by the slyly expert Mark Farrell, who plays many parts, from the doctor to Clooney’s mother and sister, to Clooney’s husband, actor Jose Ferrer, to both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.  He’s so capable and so deft that you can’t help being grateful he’s around.  You realize after a while that without him the show might not have much snap.

In fact I found myself wishing I was watching The Mark Farrell Musical.  (Note to Center Rep: consider the idea.)

Tenderly is smoothly directed by Jenny Sullivan.  Steve Blum, Brandon Adams and Scot Woolley all had a hand in the music, played onstage by Blum, Erika Johnson, and Aaron Shaul.  Jennifer Parry did the bright, relaxed  choreography, and the expert support staff includes Nina Ball (set), Maggie Morgan (costumes), Kurt Landisman (lighting) and Jeff Mockus (sound).