By Stephen Temperley
Directed by Steve Scott
At Northlight Theatre
Souvenir is the comic ode to Florence Foster Jenkins
“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” – Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) has been called “The First Lady of the Sliding Scale,” “The Terror of the High C’s,” and the “The Tone-deaf Diva.” She sure was all of those yet she was a devoted musician with a deep passion for music despite not having a shred of musical ability. Her singing sounded like the screeching of a pig, her pitch wavered and her diction turned English into a foreign language. Yet she had a devoted following of admirers–some to laugh under their breath, some to admire her passion others to witness the worst singer to ever mount a stage. She was the American Idol of her time.
Souvenir by Stephen Temperley tells Jenskin’s story from the point of view of her longtime accompanist and pianist, Cosme McMoon. Mark Anders, as McMoon, narrates the life of Jenkins and how he came to spend 12 years working with the talentless but tireless singer. Filled with personal memories, we see how Cosme moves from viewing Jenkins as merely a gig to becoming impressed with her blind passion for the music to outright admiration for Florence Foster Jenkins’ sincerity.
When Neva Rae Powers, playing Jenkins, first utters a few bars–we fallout of our seats with laughter. I admire Powers for being able to sound so terrible in so many ways. In Powers fine performance, we see that Jenkins was either delusional moving toward insanity or totally clueless about music because she believed that she had perfect pitch and that musical notes were merely general guidelines subject to a singer’s interpretation.
Jenkins’ devotion, passion and personal charisma charmed McMoon and a host of followers who enjoyed her novel style. Anders does yeomen work presenting his view of Jenkins. Souvenirs is a mildly interesting bio-with music that could use a 20 minute trim as the novelty of horrible singing wears thin after Powers screeches a few times. The build up to Jenkins’ 1944 Carnegie Hall concert worked well. In the shows climax, we hear what Florence heard in her head as Powers sings a fabulous rendition of the Ave Maria.
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets$35 – $50, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7;30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 7 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through December 20, 2009