Concert Review of September 15, 2001

Rosemary Clooney with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra

Clooney brings joy to audience mulling tragedy

BY Sherry Crawford / Courier & Press correspondent

At a time when so many of us are trying desperately to find a way to deal with the feelings we can’t seem to express about the events of the last few days, it became apparent Saturday night at The Centre that what we have all heard all of our lives is true — music does soothe the savage breast. It is a way to express what would otherwise be inexpressible.

Together an audience of more than 1,300 listened, applauded, cried and shouted for the spirit brought to the stage by music legend Rosemary Clooney. She joined the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor Alfred Savia to give the crowd not only a trip down memory lane, but also a renewal of spirit.

The concert, scheduled last year to open this season, was billed as “Blues in the Night.” But as it played out, it became so much more to everyone involved.

Savia took the stage first and led the orchestra through “The Star-Spangled Banner.” So many, myself included, talked about the changed meaning of the lyrics given our current feelings. It was moving and grand.

The first half featured the orchestra as it moved beautifully through the familiar works of some great American songwriters, including Irving Berlin and Ira Gershwin. Leading off with “The Irish Washerwoman,” (a tribute to Clooney’s heritage,) the musicians were wonderfully expressive and emotional.

Each bit of the music rang out with such heart, such reverence that at times it was almost too beautiful — almost more than one could take. I have not heard the orchestra play this passionately in a while.

The Berlin medley featured such well-known songs as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Anything You Can Do,” “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and a spellbinding “Always.”

An emotional version of “An American in Paris” finished the first half.

And then it happened — a legend walked on stage, sat down on a stool and reached out to the audience the way few entertainers ever do. Rosemary Clooney is sassy, feisty, fun and more important, she is so down-to-earth that she delights listeners just by making a mistake in a song.

In a backstage interview with her after the concert, Clooney told me that she had considered canceling the show given the circumstances, but she was glad she had not.

“I really enjoyed tonight. I needed to get to sing. That’s what I do,” she said, explaining that’s the way she deals with things.

Opening her set with “Sentimental Journey,” the audience opened its heart to her and hung on every note, notes that were so effortlessly formed that they felt almost gossamer. Every song she sang was familiar, and the crowd let her know it as soon as she began each selection.

Clooney did a tribute to Johnny Mercer that featured cute stories about him, as well as some of his most memorable songs. They included the moving “P.S. I Love You,” the gentle “Dreamland” and the plaintive “I Remember You.” Then she fired up the crowd again with her megahit, “Hey There.”

“Come On-A My House” had the crowd singing along. But it was the bittersweet “When October Goes” that brought chills. It was haunting.

While there was more, arguably the best moment of the entire evening came when she sang and led the now-standing crowd in “God Bless America.” Tears were openly shed. And not just because of the lyrics and their current significance, but also because Clooney truly makes a lyric come to life.

At 73, she embraces, wheedles and breathes a note, giving it a grace that only comes from having sung some of these songs for nearly 60 years.

Clooney says she never gets tired of the songs she sings. “I love every one of them,” she smiled. Yes, that includes “White Christmas.”

“I still do this because that’s what I do,” speaking about traveling and performing. “I also do this because of what I get back,” she said. “The audience tonight was incredible.”

“Road dogs,” she laughed, “never get tired of the traveling.”

“Like everyone else,” she said, “I couldn’t stay away from the TV the last few days. I really needed this tonight.”

So did we, Rosemary; so did we.