It is the music that matters,” says Florence Foster Jenkins in Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir at Capital Rep in Albany. This superbly performed show is a feast of vocal mayhem. Not only is Mrs. Jenkins convinced that her singing has great value, but so are we. In fact, it is awful. Painfully bad. After a long search for an appropriate accompanist, one who can stand to listen to her, she finally finds her man. He somehow survives the initial shock when she cuts loose in their first rehearsal together, and is slowly, painfully, convinced of the value and, in fact, the beauty, of the soprano’s belief in herself. Ridiculous it is, but somehow the beautifully written script starts to convince. This is due in no small part to the excellence of the acting of Georga Osborn as Foster Jenkins and and Jonas Cohen as her pianistic victim, Cosmé McMoon. Ms. Osborn excelled in doing exactly what Florence Foster Jenkins did—singing near the pitch, sometimes on the pitch, but not infrequently taking flight to realms which cleaned the ears. The essential part of this all is that the songs and arias be recognizable. Pianist McMoon-Cohen had to help us with this.
To make a long story short, Mrs. Foster Jenkins makes it to Carnegie Hall. Only one of the disasters to occur as a result of this was the poor pianist’s utter loss of anonymity. The other traumatic result was Mrs. Jenkins hearing herself laughed at during her signature piece, Gounod’s Ave Maria. It seems that the truth will finally dawn. What we haven’t quite realized is that the pianist has all the while increased in his belief that the singer does indeed hear something beautiful in her head, and that it is this music that matters. Cosmé McMoon heard the music that matters, and so did we. The play finishes with a conversation of blissful prevarication which leaves FFJ still believing.
I could imagine this play being a real disaster on stage. It is not easy to do something badly. Superb acting made this way-out-of-balance situation sweet and true. This was one of the best plays I have seen at The Rep. Go see it by all means!