Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt & Mark Friedman
Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT January-February 2020
Director: Kyle Brand
Starring: Susan Haefner & Samuel Lloyd Jr.
Choreography: MK Lawson
Scenic Design: Emma Cummings
Lighting Design: Johann Fitzpatrick
Costume Design: Soule Golden
Prop Design: Eileen O'Connor
Music Director: Robert Tomasulo
Audio Engineer: Jahvon Fox
Photo Credit: Meredith Longo
Tenderly was an interesting and surprisingly beautiful musical to work on. When I was first contacted about the show, I assumed it was a cabaret style show. Someone comes out, sings some Rosemary Clooney songs, bada bing bada boom, it's a pleasant low stakes night for folks longing for the 1950's.
I was quite wrong.
Yes, Susan Haefner played Rosemary Clooney. (Wonderfully, I might add.) But what made this musical more than a cabaret was that it chronicled tragedy in Rosemary's life and demonstrated a strong woman struggling through some of the toughest trauma one can experience. It was not a relaxing easy night.
The show opens in a dressing room with Rosemary about to take the stage in Reno, Nevada. As she performs she becomes more and more restless and we hear gunshots ring out.
The audience comes upon a psychiatrist's office, played by Samuel Lloyd Jr. Susan enters and begins to bristle at the notion of needing psychiatric help at all. She was after all a strong woman and "only weak people need therapy." As the show progressed she relaxed and began to regale the doctor about growing up with an absent father, going on the road and to the radio with her sister, her relationships with the likes of Jose Ferrer, Frank Sinatra Bing Crosby and others. Every character other than Rosemary being played by Sam Lloyd Jr.
Throughout the musical we learn more and more about her life and eventually, what brought her to the psychiatric office in the first place: witnessing the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, her dear friend.
Coming to terms with her trauma and finding the strength to mount a comeback exemplifies to me what this musical is really about, asking for help and fighting for your passions.
My goals of the sound design were to designate several different spaces: a natural sounding reality of Rosemary in the psychiatrist office, an amplified and staged version presenting Rosemary on stage during her career, and the effected, heightened world of Rosemary's memory and trauma.
This was achieved by having not only the actors body mic'd but also by having three mics living in the set. There was a vintage looking mic that helped to catch a proximity effect and add some reverb to the "performances", a dropdown "recording mic" that had an aggressive EQ on it to simulate the lack of extreme lows and highs in vintage radio, and a wired SM58 for Rosemary's comeback in the 80's. This mic achieved a similar purpose as the vintage mic, but had a more modern look to demonstrate the passage in time.
The pit was a three piece band consisting of Music Director and pianist (Robert Tomasulo), Bassist (Kevin Huhn) and Percussionist (Elliot Wallace). The band was hidden and revealed throughout the show by hiding them behind plexi glass (the windows of the office) and a black scrim. The plexi allowed much more control over the band's volume than I otherwise would have been able to achieve.
Sound effects used in the show were of three kinds as well: Recordings of Kyle Brand (our fearless director) or Sam Lloyd Jr. playing various announcers for a variety of clubs and television shows and stage managers over the years, digetic sounds such as the gunshots or party and jazz club ambiance to create the reality of the worlds Rosemary was remembering, and the effected warped sound effects of what we called "the breakdown" or when Rosemary had a nervous breakdown during a show in Reno, Nevada and lashed out at the audience before being rushed to the hospital to begin her treatment.