Sunday, January 26, 2020

Review of "Tenderly - The Rosemary Clooney Story"

Blonde and beautiful, Rosemary Clooney was a huge recording star in the 1950’s, a movie actress, and celebrated nightclub singer.  Married to Academy Award winning actor Jose Ferrer, with whom she had five children, her life seemed like a fairytale come true.  In 1968, however, all of that came crashing down during a performance in Reno, Nevada when she suffered a nervous breakdown on stage.  The aftermath is where Tenderly – The Rosemary Clooney Story begins. 
Susan Haefner as Rosemary Clooney in "TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL"
Photo Credit: Meredith Longo
The entertaining and nostalgic two-person musical takes place in the sleekly appointed office, gorgeously crafted by scenic designer Emma Cummings, of Dr. Monke (Samuel Lloyd, Jr.), who was Ms. Clooney’s (Susan Haefner) therapist during her institutionalization. There the singer/actress, at times combative, imperious, confused and frightened, begins to work through her mental health issues.  The book writers for the show, Janet Yates and Mark Friedman, utilize this set-up to deliver a retrospect of Rosemary Clooney’s life—from her very humble beginnings to stardom on the silver screen, television and recordings, to her slide into drug addiction and mental health problems, to her eventual comeback.  In addition to the role of the doctor, Samuel Lloyd, Jr. plays a number of other people in her life including her mother, Jose Ferrer, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby.  The verbal give and take is punctuated by a steady stream of Ms. Clooney’s biggest hits such as “Hey There," "Tenderly," "This Ole House,” "Come On-a My House," and "Botch-a-Me."  The songs, accompanied by a backstage trio of musicians, are appropriately incorporated into the production to articulate feelings and actions.

Susan Haefner, no stranger to the role of Rosemary Clooney, having portrayed the entertainer numerous times before, brings a confluence of emotions to her performance.  During the production, she displays a high level of self-assurance and confidence, but also adroitly shows us her dark side of self-destruction and self-doubt.  In her solo numbers, she can roar through songs with a brassy, take charge manner or envelope a melody with an easygoing delicacy.   As the low-key doctor, Samuel Lloyd, Jr. is more measured in his performance.  His understated comportment effectively contrasts with the over-sized presence of his patient.  While his imitations of the male stars in the show are passable they, nonetheless, provide a more personal and penetrating examination of Ms. Clooney’s life and relationships.
Susan Haefner and Samuel Lloyd Jr. in "TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL"
Photo Credit: Meredith Longo
Director Kyle Brand keeps the action fluid, adeptly blending the back and forth patter between the two characters and the musical numbers.  There is rarely a lull in the production as he utilizes the cozy Playhouse environs to amplify the intimate nature of the production.

Tenderly – the Rosemary Clooney Story, not only a trip down memory lane, but an engaging and compelling behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s premiere performers.  At Playhouse on Park through February 2nd.  For information, go to:

Friday, January 24, 2020

Review of "Pike St."

Nilaja Sun in "Pike St." at Hartford Stage through February 2nd.
For a one-person show to succeed, the performer needs to be charismatic, exhibit emotional range and, for many such productions, be able to embody several different personalities.  The story also needs to be compelling and entertaining.  All these essential components are in place in Pike St., a lively and impressive piece of stagecraft at Hartford Stage through February 3rd.

Playwright and actress, Nilaja Sun, has constructed a tight show—running just 80 minutes--that is captivating, comical, and heartbreaking.   The play is set, primarily, in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in New York’s Lower East Side.  It is within this small, humble abode where most of her characters, of various ages and ethnicities, come to life.  Ms. Sun’s main portrayal is of Evelyn, a mid-30-year-old Puerto Rican single mother.  They also include her severely disabled teenage daughter, an elderly Jewish woman, and her philandering father.

What sets the play into its dramatic arc is news of a dangerous storm fast approaching the city and the arrival of her war hero brother, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These elements, in addition to interpersonal conflicts and family discord, converge to produce an absorbing multi-generational saga.

As writer, Ms. Sun, has fashioned a story that incorporates a number of timely issues into its flow, which Director Ron Rusell has seamlessly blended together in scenarios that move effortlessly and smoothly into each other.  There is a natural, realistic quality to the narrative that is unforced and genuine.  Ms. Sun blends humor, compassion, and empathy to produces a spellbinding work that, ultimately, saddens but also holds out for a ray of hope.

The actress gives a tour de force performance as she imbues each of her characters with singular attributes and nuances that brings them to life.  It is the physicality of her portrayals which brings an intensity and vividness to her one-person play.

Pike St., a taut, well-crafted play that is a triumphant display of showmanship. Playing at Hartford Stage through February 3rd.  For information, go to