Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical, opening April 27 at Limelight Actors Theater, is more than simply a jukebox musical with an actress running through the Clooney songbook.
Instead, the musical, written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, takes a deeper look at the life of the legendary cabaret singer and actress.
“It’s not all about the bright stuff. It dives into her life, her breakdown and her eventual turnaround to come back on top,” said Kevin Heath, Limelight co-founder and producer. “It’s a real story with dark moments.”
Clooney was born into poverty in Kentucky in 1928. By the time of her death in 2002, her career had run parallel to that of other pop crooners from the middle of the 20th century, but was clouded by her mother’s abandonment of her at an early age, the disappearance of her father when she was a teenager, a rocky marriage to Jose Ferrer, the assassination of close friend Robert F. Kennedy, a nervous breakdown and drug addiction.
The Limelight production will be star Diane Milo as Clooney and Michael Hirsch as her psychiatrist (and a host of other roles). Songs come into the plot as Clooney revisits key memories of her life.
Heath said Limelight’s creative team saw an earlier version of Tenderly after Limelight had done “Always…Patsy Cline” (which also starred Milo).
“We learned so much about Rosemary that we started researching her life,” said Heath. “She worked with famous icons like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, but her personal life was almost more famous.”
Clooney was standing just yards away from Bobby Kennedy when he was shot. After a public breakdown and years of therapy, she made a comeback when Crosby invited her to join him for a 50th anniversary concert.
Tenderly covers her life from the late ’50s to the ’80s, providing some challenges to the Limelight crew.
“One of the biggest issues is keeping true to the period with costumes and set pieces,” said Heath. “Fortunately, our musical director, Michael Johnson, is also our costumer. He will create several original pieces for the show, as he did with the Patsy show. We are also having custom wigs made to fit each period. The set pieces are minimal, and all Mid Century, one of my favorite styles.”
Heath has put a three-piece live band—piano, drums and bass guitar—right on the stage to make the performance scenes more real.
“At first, I was nervous about having a drummer, to be honest. But after hearing the music, I realized the music of the period used very soft brushes on the drums, versus a hard-core pounding,” said Heath.
Milo has done extensive theater work in the Bay Area, after getting her start in Pittsburgh, Penn. in the 1970s. She directed Limelight’s 2018 Cabaret Series and will direct the next show, The Last 5 Years before retiring from her day job and returning to Pennsylvania. She also directed her co-star Hirsch in The Bridges of Madison County.
“Both are exceptional performers and dancers with incredible voices,” said Heath.
‘Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical.’ Limelight Actors Theater, April 27-May 19. Visit limelightactorstheater.com.