Clooney Is Gracious, Endearing in Yuletide Symphony Show

Wednesday, December 13, 2000


It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas Thursday night at Abravanel Hall, where Rosemary Clooney joined the Utah Symphony for an evening of carols, seasonal standards and songs from a little Yuletide movie she made with Bing Crosby 46 years ago.

Lights, poinsettias and wreaths adorned the Abravanel stage, which by the end of the night was a tad crowded. In addition to a large Christmas tree in the corner, the symphony shared space with Clooney, her accompanists, the Utah Symphony Chorus and the West Jordan High School Choir.

After the orchestra warmed up the audience with a program of Christmas music ("It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "The Nutcracker") and the choirs combined on a few carols, it was Clooney's turn. She took the stage in a festive red muumuu, leaned back against the piano and launched into "Let It Snow."

Let's be frank: The "White Christmas" veteran is 72, and her warm, husky voice is not what it was. Clooney's vocal range has narrowed and she lacks the lungpower to extend notes. At times the longtime Southern Californian seemed out of breath, as if adjusting to the Utah altitude.

Nevertheless, Clooney remains a gracious, endearing performer -- not unlike a favorite aunt who sits you down each Christmas, makes you cocoa and tells folksy stories with such candor and charm you don't mind hearing them for the 10th time.

"I'm not so keen on this next Christmas song," she said conspiratorially before one number, "but I said I'd do 'em all tonight and I'm doing 'em."

With able support from the symphony and conductor John Oddo, Clooney ran through "The Christmas Song," "Winter Wonderland," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and other holiday staples. Between songs she talked about Christmas shopping, Rosie O'Donnell and Clooney's 10 grandchildren, especially one cheeky 8-year-old who fancies himself a budding pianist.

Clooney also sang "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in a hushed, jazzy style reminiscent of her more recent recordings. It worked beautifully.

The last portion of the concert was devoted to "White Christmas," the schmaltzy 1954 movie that helped make Clooney a star. After showing several clips from the film on a screen hung over the stage, Clooney departed from her Christmas repertoire to croon "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" and "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep."

She also entertained the audience with gossipy tidbits about co-stars Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. (Example: While Clooney had no talent for dancing, Vera-Ellen could not sing a note and had to be dubbed.)

Clooney closed the show with -- what else? -- "White Christmas."

"Thanks for letting me come to this wonderful city and spend a day before Christmas with you," she gushed afterward as the crowd rose to its feet. "I'm very happy." Judging by its ovation, the audience was, too.