The prospect of portraying Florence Foster Jenkins at Fort Salem Theater this summer wasn't a no-brainer for Alison Davy. She gave the matter plenty of thought.
"Yes, I did hesitate for a couple of reasons," said Davy, an accomplished soprano who plays the very-much-less-talented Jenkins in the Fort Salem production of "Souvenir: The Florence Foster Jenkins Musical," Friday through Saturday. "I wondered what it might do to my voice, to make those crackling noises, and every good artist has the imposter syndrome. I thought, 'Do I really want to look right at those issues?' But I'm glad I took her on as a character. She was courageous, she was willing to take some risks, and that's a good lesson for all of us."
Jenkins was an actual person who became something of a cult figure in New York City following World War I. Born in 1868, she was dubbed "the world's worst opera singer" by historian Stephen Pile. A rich socialite, she was usually accompanied by her pianist, Cosme McMoon, played in the Fort Salem production by theater owner and artistic director Jay Kerr. Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Jenkins in a 2016 Hollywood movie, but the play is quite different than the film version.
"Meryl Streep is amazing the way she can totally inhabit any character, and of course she did that with Florence Foster Jenkins," said Davy. "But the movie is more about her relationship with the Hugh Grant character, and the play is just about Jenkins and her pianist. Streep had more people to play off of in the movie, and with the play it's just Jay and I, one on one. It's an intimate portrait of two people, and it doesn't take long before you start caring about them. Cosme is a struggling pianist with some talent, and she is a woman who has more money than she knows what to do with, but not a lot of talent."
Davy, to be sure, is a singer who is not short on talent. She has performed with the Washington National Opera, Encompass New Opera Theatre, Handel Choir of Baltimore and Centro Musica Antica in Italy, to name just a few. She was a finalist for the Vera Scammon Competition, semifinalist in the Oratorio Society of New York Competition and a recipient of the Todd Duncan prize from the Annapolis Opera and the George Woodhead prize from the Peabody Conservatory. She has also performed at the White House for then-First Lady Hilary Clinton.
Davy was born in Maryland and comes from a musical family that was involved in community theater. She has been working with the Bridge Theatre in Catskill, where her and Kerr put on eight performances of the show back in March.
"My husband and I moved up here from New York recently and now we're hooked on being upstaters," said Davy. "I'm actually working part-time with the theater as their development director, and when they needed someone for this show I was looking to do a show. Jay is an old friend of the director [Florence Hayle], who I've known for a long time and she told me Jay would be great for this show.
"It's been fun working with him, and I really am glad I'm doing the show," continued Davy. "It's not what I typically do, but there are so many references to the world that I am accustomed to, I feel right at home."
At Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, Carol Max will direct Kris Anderson (pictured above) in Jonathan Tolins' "Buyer & Cellar," opening Thursday and running through Aug. 5.
Anderson plays a struggling actor named Alex Moore who gets a job as the resident shopkeeper in a small arcade in the basement of Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate. Streisand is the only customer. In 2013 New York Times critic Ben Brantley said it was the "most talked about new comedy of the season."
Frank Oliva designed the set.
'Souvenir: The Florence Foster Jenkins Musical'
WHERE: Fort Salem Theater, 11 East Broadway, Salem
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $30-$15
MORE INFO: www.fortsalemtheater.com, 854-9200
'Buyer & Cellar'
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens tonight and runs through Aug. 5; shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $24
MORE INFO: www.curtaincalltheatre.com, 877-7529