Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook a
Of all the female vocalists of the '50s and '60s, certainly one of the greatest was Rosemary Clooney, whose songbook and life get a generous tribute in the musically rich Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook. Conceived, compiled, directed and musically directed by prolific Centerstage! Resident Musical Director David Duvall, Tenderly is a concert with narration, not a dramatization of Clooney's story, and it takes two actress/singers to cover the two halves of her career. Happily Duvall found a pair of aces to be his Rosie: ebullient Katherine Strohmaier and elegant Laurie Clothier. Gowned beautifully by Donna McNeal (Strohmaier) and Ron Leamon (Clothier), they perform on Ben Baird's glamorous stage set that marvelously emulates a set from a 1950s variety show (like Clooney had herself), with a dreamily colorful lighting design by Amy Silveria which spotlights a stunning cross-section of photos of Clooney through the years.
Katherine Strohmaier and Laurie Clothier
Moving chronologically, act one covers the Clooney career heyday and tumultuous marriage to actor/director José Ferrer, through her well-documented drug-fueled nervous breakdown in 1968, while act two spans her career resurgence, marriage to old beau Dante DiPaulo, through her passing in 2002.
The spectacular Ms. Strohmaier covers Clooney's early career effortlessly, allowing her to sing several of the singer's early standards, including the title number, "Hey There," "Count Your Blessings" and "Come On-A My House." Much of the time her rich, smooth vocals and warm delivery capture the very essence of Clooney herself. With Clothier, she pairs up on some memorable duets such as "Sisters" and "Too Old to Cut the Mustard" (both charmingly choreographed by Chris Nardine).
In act two, Clothier scintillates on "The Man That Got Away" (she covered the number for the pregnant Judy Garland at the 1954 Oscars) and nails the sultry "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" in a seductive gown modeled on the one Clooney wore performing it in White Christmas. There's even a moment when the Duvall steps away from his piano (supplanted by the multi-talented Strohmaier) and joins Clothier for the quippy Bring Crosby/Clooney duet "Fancy Meeting You Here." We learn that an early Clooney chart-topper has been used in countless contemporary films, and in closing we hear a contemporary tune, James Taylor's "The Secret of Life," which became a favorite of Clooney's, and an Irving Berlin standard, sung at her final concert in Honolulu, "God Bless America."
Duvall's well researched patter covering the ups and downs of Clooney's life, loves, and song hits, could use a bit of trimming, and a few of the songs less associated with her might be dropped as well, in the interest of keeping the audience fully engaged. But Duvall and his big band of seven versatile instrumentalists back-up the ladies beautifully, and tributes to the prime era of the Great American Songbook don't get much better than Tenderly.
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook runs through Sunday March 31, 2012, at Centerstage!, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way, WA. Tickets are available by phone at (253) 661-1444, at www.centerstagetheatre.com, or at the box-office. Point