The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Kim Schroeder Long is her smile. It’s big, bright and sincere, underlining a sparkle in the eyes. Her long hair frames a pretty, petite face that unaffectedly expresses joy and contentment.
Within seconds, you’re wondering: How in the world does this woman transform herself into the sassy, brassy girlnext door with a troubled soul she is in the hit play, “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical,” which is playing to sold out houses at the Red Barn Theatre in Key West?
The transformation is nothing short of remarkable, both externally and internally.
Long doesn’t just “play” Rosemary Clooney. She “becomes” Rosemary Clooney. Literally everything about her is different offstage to onstage.
“I’m really trying not to ‘perform’ Rosemary,” she says. “There’s a fine line between an impersonation of someone who existed in real life and an honest ‘embodying’ or ‘inhabiting’ that person.
“What I want is to let her essence come through me. And I’ve done the work, and performed this play enough that I feel I can trust that what is coming through me is her … true and honest.”
Although she makes it sound easy, Long has spent years finding that essence of Rosemary Clooney, arguably one of the biggest stars in American entertainment history, one who crossed records, radio, TV, films and concerts, and who was best friends and onstage colleagues with the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and many more.
She started finding Rosemary years ago.
“I watched every video of her I could,” she says. “Her TV shows, her interviews, her guest appearances and even the gameshow ‘Password’ — she did a lot of those. You get a real sense of who she was by watching her reactions. I could see how she coped with things. I got a sense of the nuances.”
And then, of course, there’s the music.
Clooney was one of the most successful recording artists of all time, and Long knows every song she ever sang. She also knew her own voice was quite similar to Clooney’s in tone and color — but it was the phrasing, the touch, the perfect control Clooney had that she went after.
When you hear Long sing those many Clooney hits, you realize how perfectly she nails it.
But the show is so much more than just the music. Delving deep into the troubled woman Clooney was, it’s a compelling story about the true cost of fame.
“I did a lot of research into her intimate, internal idiosyncrasies, nuances and struggles,” Long says. “I went to California and talked with people from her life — her showbiz acquaintances — and they gave me a lot of insights into who she really was behind the veneer of being a ‘star.’”
Clooney was an incredibly conflicted person, Long says. She had a rough time melding who she really was and who she felt the rest of the world wanted her to be. Her involvement with drugs and alcohol, along with numerous disappointments and tragedies in her life, led to a nervous breakdown from which she very nearly didn’t recover.
As Long worked on becoming her character, she says, what really made the difference was visiting Clooney’s hometown in Kentucky.
“I met people who knew her just as ‘one of the Clooneys from town,’” she says. “And her family gave me an enormous insight into who she really was. They took me to her little house on the river in Augusta, Kentucky, and I sat there a long time just absorbing it all. That’s where I really found her … the real her.”
And when you watch the show, it’s apparent that Clooney found Long as well. Her interactions with co-star David Black — who is also remarkable in no fewer than 10 different roles of people in Clooney’s life — are so startlingly three-dimensional that without even realizing it, you’re sure you are watching Rosemary Clooney on that stage. You feel her in front of you. Kim Schroeder Long has disappeared.
“The last thing I do before going onstage every night,” Long says, “is sit and find her ‘headspace.’ I just get quiet and open myself up to feeling everything I’ve learned about her, everything I’ve seen or heard. It’s like water closing up over me and she emerges. It brings me such joy to feel her come alive.”
“Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” runs at the Red Barn Theatre on Duval Street through Saturday, March 16. For tickets, call the box office at 305-296-9911 or go to www.redbarntheatre.com/tickets. ¦