Theater Review: “Souvenir” @ Capital Repertory Theatre, 3/5/15

March 10th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg

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Review by Greg Haymes
Pre-production photos by Douglas C. Liebig

You know the auditions for “American Idol”? The singers who squeak and screech and squawk through some pop tune, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they simply can’t carry a tune?

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Now imagine that they were attempting to sing a famous aria by Puccini or Verdi? Back in the 1930s & ’40s, Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York City socialite and lover of the classics who imagined herself to be an operatic soprano. She became celebrity who was known — and widely ridiculed — for her lack of rhythm, pitch, tone and pronunciation. In short, she simply couldn’t sing.

But she didn’t let that stop her…

Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir” – which run at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre through Sunday, March 22 – is based on Jenkins’ “musical career.” And it’s easy to laugh at the woefully off-key, off-tempo singing of Jenkins as deftly portrayed by Georga Osborne with a perfectly straight face. In fact, it’s impossible not to laugh. Capital Rep was filled with gales of laughter every time she launched into an aria.

But the smart, witty “Souvenir” isn’t really about the humiliation of a delusional wanna-be opera singer. Structured as a series of flashbacks by her longtime pianist Cosme McMoon (Jonas Cohen) 20 years after her death, there’s an undeniable warmth to the two-character play, as the audience experiences McMoon’s initial trepidation and shock gradually develop into a protective and loving working relationship.

Directed with a sure hand by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, “Souvenir” balances hilarity with genuine affection and ultimately, no small degree of admiration.

As Jenkins declares early in the play, “What matters most is the music you hear in your head.” Even if it bears no resemblance at all to the music that others hear coming out of your mouth…

GO HERE to hear the real Florence Foster Jenkins…

SECOND OPINIONS
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Richard DiMaggio’s review at Did You Weekend
Excerpt from Matthew G. Moross’ review at The Daily Gazette: “More than just an amusing musical biography of a genuine eccentric, Temperley poses serious questions amongst the laughs. Can a passion for art replace or equal a talent to create art? And if you start out to create and share one kind of art and inadvertently create another — in a completely different genre — are an artist, a fraud or a failure? Or all three? Madame Flo did not do it for the bravos and flowers. She did it for the art. And there is something to admire when she stands defiant and states, ‘I will not let the opinions of others stand in the way of my musical progression.’ Go Flo! It is not easy to sing badly when you actually are able to sing, but Osborne makes it appear easy, and that’s very impressive. Singing flat and dreadful is rarely amusing. Osborne makes it hysterical, and the fact that she is able to keep Jenkins sympathetic as well as pathetic, balancing the buffoon with a child-like innocence, is an artistic triumph.”

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