Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Pike St.
Though one might think the show would be a downer, it ultimately is quite a triumph and extremely entertaining, featuring many of Rosemary Clooney's biggest hits recreated. Audiences will be treated to performances of such songs as "Come On-a My House" and "Botch-a-Me," but will also experience a full-out and deeply satisfying character study of Rosemary Clooney's life.
When the audience enters the theater, the stunning set (beautifully designed by Emma Cummings) is visible and it captures the time and place perfectly. While the setting is primarily that of a doctor's office, there is a skillful onstage band, expertly led by musical director Robert Tomasulo, behind a set of glass doors on an upper level, which also functions as Clooney's performance stage. Director Kyle Brand has done a splendid job staging the show, and the blend of dialogue scenes and musical numbers is seamlessly presented.
The real story of this production of Tenderly is how deeply gratifying Susan Haefner is as Rosemary Clooney, both musically and dramatically. Haefner originated the role in its initial staging in Cincinnati, and she gives a powerhouse performance. She clearly knows the part down to the tiniest detail, her acting is multi-layered, and she is not afraid of coming off, at times, almost unsympathetic. But when she makes her entrance, she comes on tough as nails. There is a risk here of daring to be unlikable, but her hard exterior ultimately hides a woman who is extremely vulnerable. Don't be surprised if you are moved to tears, by the end of the show.
There is also a collection of wonderful songs that Clooney sang, with highlights including superlative performances of "Hey There" and "Count Your Blessings" and a particularly devastating "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair," which closes the first act. Haefner is a knockout singing all these songs and, if one is looking for a purely nostalgic feeling, it is right there on stage.
Haefner's costar is pretty impressive in his own right: Samuel Lloyd, Jr. portrays the psychiatrist, Dr. Monke, as well as all the other characters (both male and female). He is particularly good as the doctor, but he also scores playing such iconic figures as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. He really takes one's breath away as Rosemary's husband, Jose Ferrer. With just a well-chosen scarf (the wonderful costume design is by Soule Golden), the actor is so good as Ferrer that it is almost uncanny, with incisive lighting design (by Johann Fitzpatrick) enhancing the effect.
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical comes together terrifically in just about all aspects and would be worth seeing just for the heart-stopping work of the formidable Haefner as the title character. But there is much more. With equal amounts of musical entertainment and deeply dramatic scenes, this show makes for an unforgettable evening of theater.
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical runs through February 2, 2019, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900