New Wimbledon Studio, London – until 25 September 2017
The New Wimbledon Studio is currently playing host to the UK premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical; a two-person musical written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The production, gloriously directed by Tania Azevedo, gives insight to the hardships and trials that singer/actress Rosemary Clooney faced in her extensive career, and the lengths she went to in order to hide her struggles from the world.
Ms. Clooney’s life was non-stop from her youth and although to the public she seemed to have it all- the money, fame and famous friends- in reality she was heading down a dark road of intense pain and loneliness which led her to become addicted to pills. This addiction led to a breakdown during a performance at Harold’s Club in Reno, Nevada which prompted her to be admitted into hospital to see a psychiatrist. It’s at this point that the musical picks up, with Rosemary telling her life story to her therapist during her treatment. This is done in the form of flashbacks with the doctor transforming to play a number of other characters in Rosemary’s life.
We are given the opportunity to get to know Rosemary herself, as well as her wonderful music. Each song is placed seamlessly into the story and although it is a jukebox musical, it doesn’t feel like it’s been written purely because the music is popular. Instead each song really adds something to the story and helps it flow. The music is performed emotively by the onstage band under the direction of Simon Holt.
The cast is made up of just two people, Katie Ray as Rosemary and Fed Zanni as the doctor (and others). Both pull off the roles with sincerity, humour and elegance. Katie Ray embodies Rosemary perfectly with a fierce and emotional performance that’s truly outstanding. Her facial expressions and movement throughout are delightful as are her wonderful vocals. Ray’s voice is powerful and filled with with emotion. Whilst she is wonderful at all times, the breakdown in act two is especially mesmerising and heart-wrenching.
Fed Zanni transforms into a number of characters including Rosemary’s mother, sister and uncle, as well as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. He transitions very smoothly and gives a believable performance. At times he is hilarious and at others extremely serious but manages to flow and differentiate the various people well. His voice is also wonderful and perfect for the delightful music of Rosemary Clooney.
The lighting is crucial to this production as it symbolises when we are in the present therapy room or part of a flashback. Ali Hunter has done a wonderful job of making this clear whilst being quite subtle at the same time. Particularly effective was when the house lights slowly come up during Ms. Clooney’s breakdown.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that, Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical is a groundbreaking piece of theatre, it does do exactly what you want a show to do: tells a wonderful story with beautiful music. The performances are outstanding and whilst I did feel the show dragged marginally at times, the pace was kept up by the stellar performances. Tenderly is definitely worth making the trip to see and certainly provides a fun, roller coaster night out.