Centerstage Theatre, just over the Pierce County line in Federal Way, has presented several productions that feature a single singer or genre. These are well received because they are such an interesting examination of the singer/period/songs.
We really enjoyed the “British Invasion” which featured a bit of the history of folk and protest songs that were the working man’s cry for relief from endless toil and very low pay. These provided the genesis for the blues, a lament of hard times with no relief in sight and loves lost, which kicked off the rock and roll era. This was a truly stirring production.
Centerstage has also produced tributes to Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and other iconic singers. The most recent production is “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook”. “Tenderly” is Rosemary’s signature song but so many other songs were made popular by her.
The younger generation most likely knows her as the aunt of actor/ movie star George Clooney and she did make a guest appearance on “ER” when George was a regular; however, those of us whose parents were young adults in the ‘40s and ‘50s know her recordings and TV appearances, as much by osmosis as actual attention. Kids have always had their own musical genres, pretty separate, sometimes scornfully so, although an outgrowth of their parents’ musical choices.
When I was a young kid, our parents watched the TV show “The Hit Parade”, which made several of Rosemary’s hits a sing-along event. I often heard “This Old House”, which reminds me of our old house on the hill which needed so much work but the expense for updates for an Air Force Staff Sergeant with six kids was prohibitive. In the “White Christmas” movie, I heard “Sisters”, one of the funniest songs Rosemary did and it was especially poignant to me with my three sisters at the time.
Although Pat (my one-year-older sister) and I listened to KTAC with Sugar Brucie Cannon and KJR with Pat O’Day, we watched every musical or variety TV show we could catch. We loved singing and dancing. “The Lawrence Welk Show” was one of my dad’s favorite shows and he especially loved the Lennon Sisters when they began appearing. “That Janet, she’s just as cute as a bug’s ear!” is a direct quote. LW introduced us to tons of music and Rosemary’s hits were presented, although perhaps without her phrasing and style and in a little more pedestrian manner.
I enjoyed Rosemary’s Italian and genre songs, “Mambo Italiano” and “Come On-a My House”. I now love the standards that both Rosemary and Ella Fitzgerald sang, although not together: “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “I Thought about You”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “It’s Easy to Remember”, “Blues in the Night”, “The Man That Got Away”, and “You Make Me Feel So Young”. (Ella Fitzgerald is my favorite female singer of all time. I love her phrasing, the tonal qualities she brings to everything she sings and her ability to tell a moody story. Hey, Alan Bryce and David Duvall, perhaps this is a suggestion for a future tribute!)
Laurie Clothier and Katherine Strohmaier presented all the songs, mostly as solos but several as duets. Laurie is a veteran performer in the Northwest, mounting many one-woman shows at Seattle’s Cabaret de Paris. After hearing her sing and seeing her strong presentation, I wished that I had made the effort to see her. She’s “A Star!” without pretension, just talent.
The production’s musical director David Duvall and Laurie have collaborated for 34 years. The synergy shows. We saw Katherine Strohmaier as Sara Brown, opposite Brandon O’Neill as Sky Masterson in the 5th Avenue’s production of “Guys and Dolls”. That was a really nice production as well. I was sorry that I missed her at her “Blue Rose” tribute to Rosemary and her other Seattle venues. She’s spritely, has a lovely voice, and is “Cute as a bug’s ear!”
I enjoyed the staging, with two entry points at the top of the set, a stairway down between the band members and two entry/exit points on the lower level. I thought Ben Baird’s design of entrances and exits for the two singers, each from their own sides, made a lovely flow to come on to sing a solo or to join with the other performer.
The eight-person combo did an admirable job under David Duvall’s direction. Rich Cole played six instruments (including three varieties of saxophone), and Bruce Carpenter played six as well. David came out to sing one number with Laurie while Katherine took over piano duties for him. I was impressed with the depth of talent of all the musicians. Everyone is multi-talented.
I also enjoyed the gowns the two singers wore. Ron Leaman designed Laurie’s gowns. Her opening gown looked like something you’d see in a ‘50s New York supper club: a shirtwaist dress in navy blue with a collar, buttons up the bodice, ¾ sleeves. Donna McNeal designed Katherine’s gowns. Her opening gown was purple with a rounded scoop neck with a fitted bandeau waist and a tea length full skirt. All the gowns fit wonderfully, not easy to do if the gowns are rented but these seemed custom made for the performers. Katherine’s shoes were of the current very high styles, but not quite as not-there as Manolo Blahnik but they would have been appropriate for any fancy event today, if you could stand those shoes. And the jewelry! What an eye for ‘50s styles. I loved the absolutely essential, sparkly jewelry: the earrings were buttons and several styles of danglies; the pins were striking, worn on the shoulder or on the waist; and bracelets were mostly thin strands. The overall look of both singers was very nice. I remember my mom dressed up to go out, shimmering and sparkling in her rhinestone jewelry.
I really enjoyed the production. The singers and other musicians were wonderful. The staging and clothing was beautiful and definitely evocative of the ‘50s. What a good show.
“Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Songbook” is playing at Centerstage until April 1. For tickets and information, call the box office at 253-661-1444 or go online to www.centerstagetheatre.com.