Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Tenderly, the Rosemary Clooney Musical
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Review by Zander Opper


Susan Haefner
Photo by Alex Mongillo
Music Theatre of Connecticut is currently featuring a moving and fantastic production of Tenderly, the Rosemary Clooney Musical. Written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, Tenderly focuses on the time in 1968 when Rosemary Clooney was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and her eventual treatment. Along the way, the show features a cascade of songs associated with the singer, as the narrative jumps back and forth in time. Lest one think that this is a downbeat show, it actually glows with vitality and joy and is a real pleasure, with a sensational star performance by Susan Haefner as Rosemary Clooney.

Haefner created the role in this play when it was first presented in Cincinnati, and I was fortunate to see her in this role in early 2020 at Playhouse on Park. The miracle of this actress is that she is not content to rest on her laurels: she was great in Tenderly the first time I saw her and her portrayal has own grown in humor, brilliance, and simply wonderful singing.

No doubt, director Kevin Connors must take his share of credit for helping to further shape Haefner's performance, but the entire production is topnotch and entertaining. And it must be said that Tenderly is by no means a one-person show: John Treacy Egan is terrific in the role of Rosemary's psychiatrist, as well as a range of other people in the singer's life, most notably José Ferrer and Frank Sinatra. The happy news of Tenderly, the Rosemary Clooney Musical at Music Theatre of Connecticut is that all the elements of this production come together ideally and the show is a real knockout.

On Lindsay Fuori's sleek and sophisticated set, the stage simply features a couple of chairs and, slightly off-stage, a wonderful band led by the excellent musical director David Wolfson. At the opening, the audience sees the breakdown that led to Clooney's hospital stay, and Haefner initially comes out positively angry and bitter that she must undergo therapy. But her portrayal is multi-layered and one can also see Clooney's vulnerability and fear underneath. Of course, people coming to see Tenderly will want to hear a selection of this singer's signature songs, from "Hey There" to "Come On-A My House" to "Mambo Italiano," and all those and more are featured in the show.

Costumed exquisitely by Diane Vanderkroef, with gorgeous wig design by Mollie Dananberg, Haefner at times resembles Rosemary Clooney so well that it is breathtaking. Besides getting the physical aspects of the role just right, her portrayal ranges from fierce dramatics to moments of absolute serenity, with truly fabulous singing from beginning to end. Especially memorable are her vocals of the title song and "Sisters," plus an all out devastating "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair," which ends the first act and which moved me to tears. The revelation of Haefner's performance is that she brings such a freshness and spontaneity to the role, one would think it was her first time portraying this part.

Haefner's performance alone would make Tenderly a must see, but there is much more to this show, with costar John Treacy Egan getting several chances to shine. In addition to playing the psychiatrist, he is uncanny interpreting Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and, particularly, Clooney's husband at the time, José Ferrer. His performance of such an array of characters in impressive.

The production is also enhanced by particularly effective lighting design by RJ Romero, and the sound design by Will Atkin is crystal clear. Director Kevin Connors has worked wonders with this show, with his choreographer, Chris McNiff, providing some snazzy dance steps, as well.

Tenderly, the Rosemary Clooney Musical turns out to be a dream of a production, and Music Theatre of Connecticut has taken all the steps—from showing your vaccination card when you enter the theater to masks required by audience members at all times—to make the theatergoing experience as safe as possible. Tenderly is actually my reentry to live indoor theater since the pandemic began, and it is the perfect show for those wanting to return to the theater again.

Tenderly, the Rosemary Clooney Musical runs through October 3, 2021, at Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk CT. For tickets, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com.


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