By Michele Black
North Hollywood, CA -Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal was the place to be Sunday, July 31, as Producer Michael Sterling kicked off Sterling’s Upstairs 10th Anniversary celebration and tribute “Everything’s Coming Up Rosie,” to his dear friend and mentor Rosemary Clooney, in North Hollywood.
The stars were certainly out to help Sterling celebrate! One of those stars was John Lloyd Young, Tony award winner and original cast member of both Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation. In both the play and movie, Young played the role of Frankie Valli. Young himself is only one of over 900 performers that have graced the Sterling stage. He currently holds the record at Sterling’s for selling out 15 consecutive shows, many of those shows sold out within 20 minutes!
Heading into the club that night, I caught up with Michael Sterling who, despite being busy, took time to say hello and draw my attention to the club’s décor. Leave it to Sterling’s stunning attention to detail and creative friends, James Grey and Mister Dan, to transform the stage’s backdrop into a magnificent New York skyline for the first half of the show and then a tropical Hawaiian paradise for the second half. Both of these places were significant to Clooney’s career.
Excitement permeated the air as the audience waited with anticipation for the night’s events to unfold. The place was sold out, and sprinkled among the crowd were directors, producers, and Broadway babies–all gathered to celebrate and honor a promise Sterling made to Rosemary Clooney years ago.
Michael Sterling took the stage and shared his poignant childhood memory of his mother who was really the one responsible for Sterling’s first exposure to Clooney’s magnificent voice! Sterling’s story of his promise to Clooney felt like it came straight from a Hollywood script. It didn’t. It was just reality at its rawest. According to Sterling, it went something like this–“When I was very, very young, my mother used to sing Brahms’ Lullaby to put me to sleep. It worked, but then my mom decided she would try something else. Her favorite recording artist was Rosemary Clooney. So she bought a small vinyl record player, put on Clooney’s ‘B’ side version of Brahms’ Lullaby, dropped the needle and that was that. I was hooked on the voice of Rosemary Clooney. After that first encounter, anytime Rosemary appeared on television, my mom said I sat glued in front of the screen.
Cut to when I was a teenager going to the beach in Santa Monica one summer day with a friend. As we were passing through Beverly Hills, she suggested we pick up another friend of hers to take with us to the beach. We pulled up to the back of the long driveway at 1019 Roxbury, Beverly Hills, and knocked on the kitchen door. The door opened and standing there was Rosemary Clooney herself! That day was the first of many years of our friendship both personally and professionally. I made a promise to her that one day I would have a club of my own dedicated to her as a place where her music (and that of her contemporaries) could be presented for future generations to hear and appreciate.”
Sterling’s future was changed forever by a simple detour to pick up a friend of a friend! Maybe Sterling’s story will make us think twice next time we get aggravated with someone for asking to change up plans at the last minute… oh, that friend of a friend… that was Clooney’s half sister Gail Stone, a budding actress in her own right!
After Sterling spoke, Mary Callanan and Kerry O’Malley took the stage to start the evening’s two part performance and man what a show! It was nonstop energy from the opening number duet, Clooney’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” to the ending duet “Old Friends.” Callanan and O’Malley perfectly channeled Clooney and did an extraordinary job of representing Clooney in the earlier part of her career (Kerry O’Malley) and in her comeback and later years (Mary Callanan). These two incredibly talented, vivacious, energetic and irrepressible singers defied the audience to differentiate between them and Clooney!
O’Malley and Callanan came armed with an impressive list of show credits both on Broadway and Television. O’Malley came with reoccurring television credits: Boardwalk Empire, Hart of Dixie, Shameless, Those Who Kill, and numerous guest star appearances on various Television shows. O’Malley’s Clooney connection comes by way of Broadway where she played Betty Haynes in Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Callanan made her L.A cabaret debut right here at Sterling’s last evening and what a performance. Callanan is a powerhouse performer; I had the pleasure of seeing her as Marge at the Ahmanson Theater’s production of “Bridges of Madison County” earlier this year and she was amazing. Callanan considers Clooney one of her biggest idols!
“When all my friends were going to concerts like the Rolling Stones, I was saving my money to see Rosemary Clooney, she was my idol! I saw her several times in concert.” -Callanan
After the first duet Callanan exited the stage and O’Malley stepped into the role of a younger Clooney full force! What a knockout! Impeccably dressed in a gorgeous black and floral ¾ length evening dress looking every bit a star and exuding Clooney’s spirit, O’Malley set the tone for what promised to be an extraordinary evening! After a bit of a tangle with the stool, O’Malley decided to go without it (it kept sinking lower and lower when O’Malley tried to sit on it!). O’Malley opened her set with “Come On A My House.” Even though the Mitch Miller song stayed on the charts for 6 weeks and garnered Clooney her first Gold Record in 1951, O’Malley lightheartedly shared that it wasn’t one of Clooney’s favorites.
Following that was “Hey There” from the film “Pajama Game,” a beautifully staged duet between Clooney on film and O’Malley, a nice touch that highlighted both Clooney and O’Malley’s voices gorgeously. O’Malley set up the next song, Dave Frishberg’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham,” the song Clooney referred to as “the quintessential road song,” by sharing her own experiences on the road as she traveled from city to city performing. High marks to O’Malley for singing this tune that just dripped soulfulness, sadness and loneliness that often accompanies life on the road. O’Malley moved on to Gershwin’s “A Foggy Night,” followed by the Irvin Berlin song “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” that Clooney sang in “White Christmas.” The stand out O’Malley performance for me was hands down the ending medley “I Cried For You / Who’s Sorry Now and Goody Goody.” She absolutely crushed it! O’Malley did Clooney proud by doing a stand out job of bringing Clooney to life in the first half of this magnificent show.
Between the first and second half of the show the audience was treated with a beautiful overture featuring “Tenderly,” “White Christmas,” “Half As Much,” “Sisters” and “This Old House.” Richard Allen and the band who consisted of Ed Smith on drums and bassist Randy Landas, did a stellar job!
Next the house lights were illuminated on the walls to reveal the Hawaiian theme, harkening us back to Clooney’s last Hawaiian performance in 2001. Taking command of the stage next was the captivating Mary Callahan dressed in all black and wearing a beautiful gold and black jacket that Callanan said her friend designer David Josef finished on the flight over to L.A (it’s good to have friends in high places!) and a gorgeous necklace to die for! Cheeky Callanan carrying leis and joking with the band as she placed the leis around their neck, alluded that it had been a while since the boys in the band got “lei’d.” Clooney’s first Hawaii concert was in 1959 the night that Hawaii became a state and Callanan quoted Clooney as having said at her 2001 last Hawaii concert “My first concert here in Hawaii was back in 1959, it’s taken a while but I’m back by popular demand!”
The sassy and irrepressible Callanan launched into one of my favorite Clooney songs “Sentimental Journey” moving on to “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” with a lovely piano solo by music director Richard Allen. Speaking of Allen, what a delight to listen to him, especially on “Just In Time.” Played in between “Ole Rockin’ Chair” (which featured another incredible piano solo by Allen) and “Ol Man River,” this one seemed to be a crowd pleaser as all of them were. However, Callanan just seemed to be in her element with this one. Callanan took a moment to share the story of Bing Crosby asking Clooney to perform at Crosby’s 50th anniversary in show business concert at the London Palladium in 1976. Clooney was said to say “Playing with you Cros, I’d go anywhere.” Fulfilling that request kick started Clooney’s career back into gear after severe bouts of depression and sad addiction to prescription drugs.
Regarding “Ol Man River,” Callanan’s voice, mannerism and stage presence oozed Clooney to perfection! Accompanied by Randy Landas/ Bass, Ed Smith/ Drums and Allen on piano “Ol Man River” quickly became the second favorite song of the night for me. Closing out her dynamite set, Callanan chose “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Just after finishing Callanan made a comment that made this Red Sox loving fan cheer. She mentioned the Red Sox and how she almost made it to the end of the concert without mentioning them! (Callanan and O’Malley are both from Boston and huge Sox fans!) Lastly, Callanan sang a medley of two great Clooney jazz tunes.” It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” and “I’m Checkin’ Out Goombye.” Seriously, if I would have closed my eyes I couldn’t have been able to tell it wasn’t Clooney live and in person there on Sterling’s stage. Callanan’s extensive cabaret experience served her well as she absolutely killed it and left the audience begging for more. Callanan can now add Sterling’s Upstairs in North Hollywood to her impressive list of cabaret triumphs! From Boston to New York City, Las Vegas to Provincetown and now L.A, audience members are smitten! Callanan certainly knows how to keep an audience engaged. Calling back O’Malley to the stage with an “Oh, Rosie!!”, on walked O’Malley dressed stunningly in the evening gown she wore on Broadway for “White Christmas.” Earlier in the evening, Callanan shared the amusing story of how O’Malley had to be sewn into the gown for the Broadway production of “White Christmas” because the dress arrived late and without a zipper!
These two sassy lassies brought the audience to their feet closing out one of THE best shows I have seen in a long time with “Old Friend” in a duet that surely had Rosie smiling down from heavenly places.
What a night! Thank you Michael Sterling, Director Bruce Kimmel, Music Director Richard Allen and his magnificent trio Randy Landas / Bass and Ed Smith /drums and last but certainly far from least, Mary Callanan and Kerry O’Malley, for bringing Clooney’s iconic music to life for an unforgettable night of entertainment!
Michael Sterling & Associates
Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal
5303 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, California 91601