With its current production, stageworks/Hudson is doing what it does best — presenting a gem of a play, finely acted on an imaginative, low-gloss set. “Souvenir; A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” beautifully written by Stephen Temperley and sensitively directed by Marc Geller, is a most engaging comedy that combines heart and passion with a steady flow of gentle humor.
WHERE: Stageworks/Hudson, 41A Cross St., Hudson
WHEN: Through Aug. 17
HOW MUCH: $27 to $22
MORE INFO: 822-9667
Based on a true story, it chronicles the career of Florence Foster Jenkins (Deborah Jean Templin), an eccentric New York City socialite who believes she is the greatest opera diva of all time. Trouble is, she can’t carry a tune. Her story is told through the eyes of her long-time accompanist, Cosme McMoon (John Fitzgibbon).
We first meet McMoon in a fashionable supper club, where he is playing the piano and singing a popular tune. He begins his narration by explaining that tonight is the 20th anniversary of Jenkins’ passing. Fitzgibbon is a gifted musician, storyteller and stand-up comic and so the play engages right away. And then we meet the lady. In the music room of her suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, she details her reason for hiring McMoon; she hopes to give a small recital in the hotel’s ballroom and donate the proceeds to her charities. Once McMoon hears her sing in her unbearable soprano, he balks. But he reluctantly takes the gig to pay the rent.
Templin is a truly captivating performer. She acts Jenkins, a lady of refined sensibilities, with heart-whole, and sometimes heart-breaking, sincerity and all the confidence of someone who believes everything she says about herself; she calls herself “the true coloratura.” The audience is rooting for her from the start. And her career does somehow take off.
Much to McMoon’s surprise, her little recitals turn into an invitation to play Town Hall, where she hopes to perform “The Queen of the Night” aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” He discourages her and finally convinces her that she will strain her voice by singing in “that barn.” But he cannot stop the juggernaut of her popularity. She is invited to make a record, which sells thousands of copies, and to ultimately play a concert at Carnegie Hall.
Fitzgibbon’s comically underplayed bewilderment is priceless, as he wonders if he has been wrong and that the lady is a genius who has invented a new form. Her audiences, of course, see her as a laughable oddity, but she hears the laughter as cheers.
The most touching moment of the show — and there are many — comes when Jenkins questions the reaction of her Carnegie Hall audience. The affection McMoon feels for the lady he has come to refer to as “Madame Flo” is never more in evidence. And her gratitude is tender and true.
Costumes by Dennis Ballard are creative and often witty and lighting by Frank Den Danto III captures the mood of each of the play’s various locations.