‘Tenderly’ a sterling showcase for Haefner, Lloyd

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Sam Lloyd Jr., left, and Susan Haefner take star turns in ‘Tenderly.’ All photos courtesy Weston Playhouse Theater Company.

Weston Playhouse brings the life of singer Rosemary Clooney to its Other Stage with Tenderly, and while you might expect them to be rolling out a barrel of nostalgia, Tenderly is a drama with music that explores the highs and lows of the singer who, over several decades, was a Hollywood star, enjoyed No. 1 hit records in the ‘50s, became addicted to pills, saw her marriage collapse and had a number of breakdowns both off and onstage.

The play takes place in an office of a doctor who is treating Clooney after a breakdown. And as the doctor coaxes details of her life from the reluctant Clooney, we are treated to some of the songs that made her famous. As Clooney sings and dances, the actor playing the doctor takes on many of the characters in Clooney’s life.

And while the play by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman has a lot going for it in Act I, the second act never lives up to the promise of the first; it’s as if the writers were desperately trying to stretch out material for a one-act into a full evening. Things become thin as they try to wrap up the story into a neat little package.

Luminous, fragile portrayal of Clooney

Sam Lloyd Jr. plays a variety of people in Clooney’s life, including her sister Betty, fellow actor Bing Crosby and husband Jose Ferrer.

Despite its drawbacks, Tenderly proves to be a sterling showcase for its actors — Weston favorites Susan Haefner and Sam Lloyd Jr. Haefner’s Clooney is luminous, at times fragile, at times heartbreaking as she narrates her heady highs and emotional lows. In the intimate Weston theater, Haefner’s finely detailed portrayal fits snugly on the tiny stage and she gives her audience a smart, knowing performance.

Meanwhile Lloyd plays psychiatrist Dr. Monk along with every other character in Clooney’s life, from her sister Betty to her husband Jose Ferrer to her friend and fellow performer Bing Crosby. Lloyd morphs from one character to the next using small gestures and vocal changes, offering us a master class in subtle characterization.

Director Tim Fort utilizes the postage-sized stage well, keeping the action on point with a few assorted hand props, a couple of chairs and not much else. Fort has led his talented duo through a minefield of difficulties, mining humor amid the dire story and relieving tensions with song and dance.

Haefner gives a finely detailed portrayal.

The two talented players are backed up by a trio of fine musicians — Jeffrey Lodin on piano, John Convertino on bass and Andrew Gillum on drums. The work of Scenic Designer Kristen Robinson, Costume Designer Barbara A. Bell, Lighting Designer Travis McHale and Sound Designer Tanner Elker set the right tone throughout.

If you remember Clooney, Tenderly may bring back memories. If you are new to Clooney, Tenderly will give you plenty to smile about and even more to contemplate. In either case, this two-hander offers a couple of star turns you really shouldn’t miss.

Tenderly continues through Aug. 5 at the Weston Playhouse Other Stage, Weston Rod and Gun Club, 982 Vermont Route 100 in Weston. Performances: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, click here or call 802-824-5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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