Much of the world knows Rosemary Clooney for traditional pop tunes such as “Come On-a My House,” “Tenderly,” “Sisters,” “Mambo Italiano” and “This Ole House,” plus her co-starring role opposite Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.” But chances are even the most dedicated fan isn’t fully aware of the depths she suffered from depression and prescription drug addiction, nor the great lengths she undertook to rid herself of those demons.
Outside of a four piece jazz band, the Williams Street Rep show is carried by just two actors, the dynamic and dead on authentic Amanda Flahive in the lead role, alongside her marvel of a doctor Mark R. Mahallak (who also skillfully juggles at least a dozen cameos).
Granted, it’s nothing new for an entertainer to go down such dark roads when the glow of the spotlight fades, but the Chicago premiere of “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” nonetheless paints one of the most compelling pictures of that arc, centered mostly around her time in the therapist’s chair, interspersed with flashbacks of her most famous (and infamous) performances. Outside of a four piece jazz band, the Williams Street Rep show is carried by just two actors, the dynamic and dead on authentic Amanda Flahive in the lead role, alongside her marvel of a doctor Mark R. Mahallak (who also skillfully juggles at least a dozen cameos).
Though it’s heart-wrenching to watch Clooney suffer a nervous breakdown on stage and vulnerably peel back the layers of her emotions that stem from childhood abandonment, it’s impossible not to root for the legend as she attempts to pick up the pieces. While doing just that, she discovers disturbing patterns in her adult relationships (including a tumultuous first marriage), along with the roots of her dependency on sleeping pills (which in the 1950s were apparently all too easy to obtain from any hotel doctor).
Along the way, “Tenderly” also references many stars of the day who ran in Clooney’s circles (Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope), and while she never ascended to quite the cross-cultural impact of those pals, she nonetheless maintained a dedicated following right up through her twilight years revival as a jazz singer. And naturally, all of the above songs and several other hits are just as integral to this touching performance, which concludes with a simple but sincere call to “Count Your Blessings” as a fully recovered star basks in the glow of her Hollywood Bowl comeback.
“Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” continues various dates and times at the Raue Center For The Arts in Crystal Lake through February 14. For additional details, visit RaueCenter.org.