The Record (Bergen County, NJ) - 2-7-92

By Bill Ervolino, Record Television Editor

Rosemary Clooney walked onto the stage of Rainbow & Stars on Tuesday night a nervous wreck.

There were friendly faces everywhere, and Clooney, resplendent in lavender sequins, gave it the old college try. But halfway through her opening number, Antonio Carlos Jobim's lilting, bittersweet "Wave," Clooney paused, turned to her conductor and pianist John Oddo, and joked, "I blew it already."

It was a nifty icebreaker.

The audience cheered her on, and Clooney picked up the lyric. "Just catch the wave," she crooned, "don't be afraid of loving me." The words were wonderfully appropriate, and Clooney eventually caught the wave herself, offering a nicely executed "Sophisticated Lady" before diving into a medley of two other Duke Ellington standards, "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "I'm Checking Out."

The medley was cookin', despite the obvious: Clooney was in neither great voice nor great spirits. It was, after all, a little more than a week since the death of her ex-husband Jose Ferrer, and she appeared tired and shaken.

The audience was clearly on her side, though. And, when she became a little misty during "More Than You Know," turning away for a moment to discreetly dab her eyes, more than a few of us began dabbing our eyes as well.

A smoky tenor sax solo, courtesy of Scott Hamilton, was a dandy touch. Like just about everything else about this show, it was perfectly tailored to the intimacy of the room.

Though subdued, Clooney's rollicking sense of humor kept things on an even keel. As the thirtysomething Oddo began to play the opening strains of one of her biggest hits, "Hey There," Clooney moseyed over to the piano and asked, "Were you alive when I recorded this?"

Introducing "Thanks for the Memory," Clooney once again cracked wise. "This is Bob Hope's theme song," she said, "but I like it anyway." The two are longtime friends, and even toured together a few years back, but the song was far more than a tribute to an old buddy. It has a lovely lyric -- Hope has changed the words so often, I can't even remember the last time I heard the correct ones -- and Clooney brought every line to life, vividly.

On the smile-inducing "Sweet Kentucky Ham," Clooney, who hails from Kentucky, offered a similarly evocative interpretation. The song is all about life on the road -- how traveling can make you homesick for the darnedest things -- and Clooney was mesmerizing throughout, seemingly making up the words on the spot. I've been dreaming of ham sandwiches ever since.

"Will You Still Be Mine," by Tom Adair and Matt Dennis, has long been a staple in Clooney's repertoire. As she explained on Tuesday, "It reminds me of New York in the Forties, when I first came here." And again, she made every line sound brand new.

If the soothing, unsplashy "Wave" was an untraditional opener, her rendition of "The Best Is Yet to Come," which closed out the show, was similarly low-key, though smashing.

Judy Garland frequently belted out the Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh tune as a brash, optimistic anthem. Clooney's take is a masterful study in subtlety -- a gently reassuring lullaby sprinkled with hope and yearning.

As it turned out, seeing Clooney on what was clearly an off-night was an unexpected treat. Her voice lacked some of its trademark sweetness and punch, but it made her interpretive gifts all the more obvious. Oddo and Hamilton complemented her efforts nicely, along with David Finck (bass), Joe Cocuzzo (drums), Warren Vache (coronet), and Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar).

In the liner notes of "Girl Singer," Clooney's latest album on the Concord Jazz label, pop singer Linda Ronstadt writes, "If there's a `Girl Singers Anonymous,' Rosemary is my sponsor. This is a wonderful collection of songs, and Rosemary tells the stories in full-blown technicolor."

It's a perfect tribute from one grand girl singer to another, and a swell description as well of Clooney's onstage artistry. You can catch that Technicolor haze, live, through February.

Rosemary Clooney appears at Rainbow & Stars, 30 Rockefeller Plaza at 9 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. There is a $35 cover with no minimum. For reservations call 1-(212) 632-5000.

Copyright © 1992 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.County, NJ), 02-07-1992, pp 009.