Quote of the Day: To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable. Beethoven
In the case of Florence Foster Jenkins, Beethoven would have given her a gold star for passion and enthusiasm, but the off-key oddly rhythmed delivery might have made even his hearing impaired ears burn.
The play Souvenir by Stephen Tempereley is about the famous enthusiastic performer Florence Foster Jenkins, told from the perspective of her accompanist Cosme McMoon. You might have seen the 2016 film about her life starring Meryl Streep. The movie focuses more on her and her relationship with her husband, but the play is a two-person play about the singer and her accompanist. It’s delightful, silly, hilarious, and heartfelt.
The play opens with Cosme (Michael Pearce Donley) at the piano. He plays a few bars, then stops and talks to the audience (us, but not us). The setting is a Greenwich Village Supper Club in 1964. Cosme is remembering his friend Florence Foster Jenkins (Vanessa Gamble) and their unusual musical relationship. Florence was a real person with really big delusions of grandeur. She loved to sing. She wanted to perform. She sought out an accompanist who was willing to work with her, and Cosme rose to the challenge. A good accompanist is a good listener. Cosme did his best to adjust the tune, the rhythm, the tempo, the style, everything to follow Florence who heard a very different song in her head.
Donley is a skilled performer, best known for his hit comedy Triple Espresso. His piano skills are excellent. He sings well, and knows how to work the audience. He and his co-star Vanessa Gamble play off each other so well. They’ve been working together on various projects for years. They were born to play these roles that are both hilarious and heartfelt. While Cosme does express some frustrations in Florence’s delivery, he also grows to appreciate her genuine enthusiasm for the art. He begins to change his own views on what it means to make music. (The church choir quote, Make a joyful noise, comes to mind.) In the end, they appreciate each other.
You can’t help but admire Florence’s exuberance as a performer. She rehearses for hours every day. She has a deep appreciation for classic repertoire. She wears elaborate costumes to accent the songs. (Fabulous costume designs by Barb Portinga, and I have to give a shout out to the dresser, Katie Sondrol, who must work very quickly to help Vanessa in and out of all those crazy costumes!) Vanessa Gamble is all in as Florence Foster Jenkins. She believes in this woman who never saw herself as a joke. Rather, someone who gave joy.
Jeffrey S. Miller directs this charming play for Bucket Brigade Theater. You can see it at the Art House in St. Paul, MN through March 14, 2022. The shows were sold out this past weekend, so don’t delay in getting tickets. The Art House is an old church converted into performance and art space. When we walked in they were brewing the coffee, and offered refreshments at intermission, giving the experience a neighborhood feel. My friend Georgia, who lives just a few blocks away, said that she kept looking around for people she might know. I thought maybe I should have brought a pan of bars.
Go. Create Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: When is the last time you tried to so something, particularly in the arts, and didn’t care what anyone else thought about it?