Carnegie’s “Tenderly’ is a Bluesy Portrayal of Kentucky’s Favorite Songstress

Review by Hannah Gregory of Tenderly: Carnegie Theatre

Going into Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, you may expect a nostalgic piece that skirts you away to the 1940’s and 50’s, churning medleys of Rosemary Clooney’s warm, sultry voice into a feel-good musical. While it certainly highlights hits from Clooney’s career, the second show in The Carnegie’s 2017–2018 season is hardly fluff. With only two actors –– Kim Schroeder Long as Rosemary Clooney (or Rosie, as she’s fondly called) and Allen Middletown, who portrays Rosie’s doctor (as well as various friends, family members, and others who affected Rosie’s life) –– Tenderly requires top notch, versatile performances. It delivers.

Tenderly functions very much as a staged biopic, taking us through Clooney’s life as a young Kentuckian with oft-absent parents and then her rise to fame as a singing starlet. The show focuses on Clooney’s stint in a psychiatric ward and is told through her sessions with her doctors and through flashbacks of her life. The crux of the show hearkens to her breakdown at a performance in Reno and the events that preceded such an episode. Highlights include the explosive “Come On-A My House,” “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” where Schroeder Long stretches her acting chops and the music’s merry-go-round theme darkly underpin Clooney’s psychosis, and “Are You in Love Again” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” which provide a nice rising emotional arc.

Directing team Dee Anne Bryll and Ed Cohen take control of the script written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, keeping the audience engaged through nice moments of movement and stillness. Though Act One occasionally drags, the exposition is nearly necessary to understand Clooney’s descent into near madness, and the pay off is worth it –– Bryll and Cohen seemed to notice the lag and kept scene transitions energetic and quick. A wonderful side note: Tenderly was developed for production at the Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, OH and subsequently produced at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Tyler Duncan Gabbard has designed a brilliant set –– the walls and furniture are a simple, clinical white that place us directly in the world of the ward. Accessories on various shelves provide an intimate touch, almost as if we are peering into her true self; this heavily contrasts the larger-than-life photos that adorn the backdrop, a nod to her public image. The lighting by Michael Ekema-Nardella serves the piece well.

Costumes by Helen A. Raymond-Goers are smartly designed. It is a difficult task to costume a show where actors go in and out of different characters; Raymond-Goers delivers with ease, highlighting a character’s essence with one or two quick items that be easily donned or ditched.

And then there’s the music. Steve Goers’ music direction is a true asset to Cincinnati theatres. The three-piece band plucks every note with precision and personality, and there is not a single note or lift Schroeder Long utters that isn’t brimming with intention and purpose. If the story doesn’t speak to you, the music will.
Tenderly: the Rosemary Clooney Musical is currently running at The Carnegie through November 19. Snag your tickets today by calling 859-491-2030 or by visiting www.thecarnegie.com.

 

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