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In TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL at MusicalFare everyone brings the proverbial “110%”

THE BASICS:  TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL, by Janet Yates Vogt & Mark Friedman, directed by Doug Weyand, stars Debbie Pappas as Rosemary Clooney and Louis Colaiacovo as her doctor (and everyone else!), and runs through December 4, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 & 7:30, and Sundays at 2. MusicalFare Theatre, on the Daemen College Campus, is located at 4380 Main Street, Amherst but you will do better entering off Getzville Road. (839-8540) or Run time 2 hours including one 20-minute intermission. Full service bar with a beautiful lounge, coffee and snacks.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  TENDERLY, the musical, is based on Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography and follows her career from a 1946 teenage radio act in Cincinnati with her sister Betty, their life on the road with a touring big band orchestra, her rise to stardom in the 1950s, her two failed marriages to the actor Jose (“Joe”) Ferrer, and in the 1960s her addiction to prescription pills, depression, hospitalization, and recovery. Mrs. Clooney’s signature hits include “Hey There (you with the stars in your eyes),” “Tenderly,” and “Come On-A My House” (which she hated) along with two other novelty hits “Botch-A-Me” and “Mambo Italiano.” The show also includes George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon” by Buffalo’s own Harold Arlen (lyrics by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Billy Rose), and Nat “King” Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Remarkable in this day of one-hit wonders, her career spanned 50 years. She starred in two Hollywood films, including “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby (who helped stage her post-depression comeback), had her own television show, and in 2002 received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This is not a “jukebox musical.” The story is not fashioned to fit the songs. Instead, the songs were chosen to illustrate the actual life of a beloved entertainment icon. And, we don’t get the whole song. Just enough to illustrate and entertain, and then we move on. It’s paced very well.

Every aspect of TENDERLY is delivered at the highest level.

Every aspect of TENDERLY is delivered at the highest level. Debbie Pappas has both acting and singing chops and her voice is very “easy on the ears.” This is her show and it’s almost spooky how she inhabits the character of one of America’s most beloved stars. Well done. If Debbie Pappas was all that you got, you’d have your money’s worth and go home happy. But you get a whole lot more.

Louis Colaiacovo is simply the best utility man I’ve seen.

Louis Colaiacovo is simply the best utility man I’ve seen. In quick succession, he plays Rosemary’s doctor, sister (yes, in several duets!), mother, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jose Ferrer, et. al. (I couldn’t keep track of them all) and brings his national touring production experience to bear. Let me expound on that a moment. You don’t go national unless you’ve got the talent, but when you do, you are surrounded by others who are working at the highest levels, and that both informs your performances and inspires you to keep reaching higher yourself. It’s hard to describe, but your timing is tighter, your actions more economical, and you have the confidence to totally commit to the role. And, again, if Louis Colaiacovo was all that you got, you’d have your money’s worth and go home happy. But you get a whole lot more.

The band. I may have had my problems with MusicalFare in the past, but this is not one of those times. Theresa Quinn was on fire at the piano. And it was a real (albeit baby) grand piano and not one of those despised electronic keyboards which are the mainstay of musicals these days! Dave Siegfried was an artist with the bass, filling the sound out but never intrusive. And Peggy Scalzo was as tight as can be on the drums. Everything was so well balanced.

One or two production elements may have been better than all the others, and you see them before the show starts. Chris Schenk’s set and Chris Cavanagh’s lighting combine to scream sophisticated late 1950s-early-1960s design, when things were cool, elegant, with jazzy shapes using trapezoids, and black and white (think Marcel Marceau or Coco Chanel’s comeback or Jackie Kennedy’s outfits). This was the era of Playboy magazine (which, by the way, was the publishing house for Rosemary Clooney’s autobiography), hi-fi, Madison Avenue, martinis, and Miles Davis. That whole gestalt was captured on stage by shapes and lights and shadows. Pretty impressive, guys.

The audience on Friday night was primarily baby boomers, like me, and so this is the music of our parents, the G.I. Generation, most of whom, like Rosemary Clooney, were born around 1920. In fact, my wife recalls that her mother had a 78 rpm of Rosemary Clooney singing “Mambo Italiano.” So, while the nostalgia is a bit tangential, it is a look at “The Great American Songbook” which is certainly part of our cultural DNA. And it’s a really well-crafted look, too.

 Lead image: Debbie Pappas and Louis Colaiacovo – NY Theatre Guide/MusicalFare


*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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