By Alec Clayton
Harlequin Productions’ Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical is much more than a musical revue. Yes, Meg McLynn as Clooney performs all the legendary singer’s greatest hits — “Hey There,” “Tenderly,” “Sisters,” “Come On-a My House” and more, often in unexpected ways — and costar Bruce Haasl as “The Doctor” sings as exquisitely as Harlequin patrons have come to expect. But through the songs and through their excellent acting, they tell Clooney’s life story — a story few people know — that is in moments tragic, in other moments funny and ultimately uplifting.
Clooney grew up in a troubled family with an alcoholic father and a demanding though mostly absent mother in Maysville, Kentucky. She began performing from an early age with her little sister Betty and was a major star by her early 20s. She had fallen in love with her dance tutor, but they were separated by busy schedules. She married José Ferrer in 1951, and they had five children in quick succession. Ferrer had multiple affairs before and after their marriage.
Clooney became addicted to pills and suffered severe depression. She participated in Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign and was feet from him in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he was assassinated, pushing her over the edge into being hospitalized with a major mental breakdown. Despite the dark, sad part of her story, which was important to include and done well, the play comes out uplifting and with hope.
Tenderly is McLynn’s Harlequin debut. She is a Seattle-based actor and singer and has performed with the Idaho Shakespeare Company and the Seattle Symphony and has even sung the national anthem for the Seattle Seahawks. She sings brilliantly with great range and mixes her delivery from comic to tragic.
Haasl is no stranger to South Sound stages. He has been seen in Jesus Christ Superstar and Rent and many of Harlequin’s Stardust series plays. Listed in the program as “The Doctor,” Clooney’s psychiatrist, he literally leaps and runs and dances into performances as Clooney’s little sister and her mother and her husband and such performers as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Haasl does not attempt to mimic these many characters but captures the essence of each in entertaining ways.
There are moments — many, many moments — that are totally unexpected, delightful and heart-wrenching. Haasl and McLynn have such chemistry they should go on national tour as a song-and-dance duet.
Congratulation to the stars, the accompanying trio of Jeff Bell on piano, Andy Garness on drums and Rick Jarvela on bass, and to director Cory McDaniel.
Tenderly runs in repertory with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Until the Flood, each opening on successive Fridays and running for five weeks. Patrons must show proof of vaccination and wear masks.
Photo credits: Shanna Paxton Photography, courtesy Harlequin Productions.
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Through Oct. 20
State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E, Olympia