A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins
by Stephen Temperley
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Music direction by Will McGarrahan
Featuring Leigh Barrett & Will McGarrahan recreating their acclaimed performances.
Season Sponsored by Lee & Diana Humphrey and Bank of America
Production Sponsored by Liz & Paul Kastner
Director Spiro Veloudos sponsored by Mary K. Eliot
Leigh Barrett sponsored by Mary Shaw
Will McGarrahan sponsored by Jon-Daniel Durbin
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
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Spiro Veloudos is thrilled to be able to remount one of his favorite productions in celebration of his 20 years as Producing Artistic Director. Souvenir is an affectionate portrait of Florence Foster Jenkins, one of the finest coloratura sopranos in history — but, alas, only in her own mind! Despite being called “majestically awful,” her concerts in the 1930s and ’40s, including a legendary appearance at Carnegie Hall, were not only sold-out but were attended by the crème de la crème of Manhattan society. Told affectionately through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosme McMoon, Souvenir is the sweet, inspiring, hilarious portrait of a passionate music lover who believed that “what matters most is the music you hear in your head.” Featuring Leigh Barrett & Will McGarrahan recreating their acclaimed performances.
“A brilliant performance by Leigh Barrett!” — Boston Globe “Will McGarrahan is the best!” — Theater Mirror
Press & Reviews
“Her costumes were among the wildest ever to grace a stage: audience favourites included her giant pair of wings (the “Angel of Inspiration”) and a tent-like 18th-century ball gown. She would often accessorise her ensembles with a parasol that she would enthusiastically twirl, or ostrich feathers with which she fanned herself.”
“Everyone, from the stars to director Veloudos to costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley, seems to be having a grand time in “Souvenir.’’ Buckley has done outstanding work in creating an array of lavishly eye-popping outfits for Barrett’s Florence”
“For the apt balance of mockery and tenderness we should give McGarrahan much credit. A somewhat under sung hero of the Boston stage, he not only acts but also sings and plays piano effortlessly, in the case of “Souvenir” dotting the recollected proceedings (and offering a palate cleanser after Foster Jenkins’ assaults) with popular period tunes.”
Go get a ticket. You’ll wince, you’ll cringe, and you’ll love every shattered, crushed, and mutilated note.
Souvenir works on many levels, and the fact that both actors play it straight enhances the beauty and warmth of the story. It also happens to be really funny, but the audience is not encouraged to laugh at Florence’s singing; rather, the humor is spawned by her personality, her foibles, and some of the situations that Temperley shows us. McGarrahan doubles as the show’s music director and, in addition to all of the operatic pieces he plays to accompany Barrett, he tickles the ivories with style (and without benefit of sheet music) on a number of popular tunes of the period. It’s almost like being in a piano bar, only without the bar, and it’s delightful. With the skills and experience brought to the table by Barrett and McGarrahan, Veloudos took the opportunity to add depth to their characterizations. He lets us feel the genuine affection between Florence and Cosmé, perhaps shining a light on why she was so popular and how her music truly was a joyful noise.
“Over at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the revival of “Souvenir” is so bad it’s funny. And that’s just the way they want it.”
“Skip Curtiss’s set is simple and elegant, serving mostly as Florence’s rooms at the Ritz, with the removal of a few pieces transporting it to a recital hall. Gail Astrid Buckley’s marvelous period costumes run the gamut from exquisite to gaudy, which Florence was prone to.”
“Barrett and McGarrahan are older and probably wiser, and they’re able to easily slip back into the roles just as if they were donning a pair of warm slippers, and the warmth and chemistry they project from the stage will have you admiring their artistry all over again, under the capable direction of Spiro Veloudos.”
“…the utmost praise is due to that triple threat of Barrett, McGarrahan and Veloudos, responsible for an uncanny cascade of mind-boggling side-splitters, rib-ticklers and knee-slappers galore. Your attitude toward musical performance may never be quite the same after you’ve experienced this souvenir of a bygone era. (Or error).”
“Incredibly funny, poignant, wonderfully directed.”
I wanted to do something for my 20th anniversary season that was really special to me,” said Veloudos. “There were a number of shows that I could have chosen, but I chose Souvenir for two reasons: One, I find the story fascinating; the other reason is that I get to work with two of my favorite actors. And it’s grown up a little bit.
Cast & Crew
Leigh Barrett* (Florence Foster Jenkins) was seen just last month as Rose in Gypsy. Other Lyric Stage credits include Company, Sondheim on Sondheim, City of Angels, Grey Gardens, Souvenir, Nicholas Nickelby, Big River, Animal Crackers, Follies, A Little Night Music, Mikado, Nuncrackers, and Sunday in the Park with George. Other area credits include Closer Than Ever, Ragtime, Threepenny Opera, Indulgences, Side by Side by Sondheim, The World Goes ‘Round, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Wild Party (New Rep), Passion, Great American Trailer Park Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Drowsy Chaperone, Elegies, A Class Act, Adding Machine (SpeakEasy Stage), Marry Me a Little, Jacques Brel (Gloucester Stage), Alice, Sound of Music (Wheelock Family Theater), Company (Moonbox Productions), Gypsy, Picnic, John & Jen, You Never Know, Pal Joey (Stoneham Theatre), A Christmas Carol, Singing in the Rain, and Sweeney Todd (North Shore Music Theatre), Mud Blue Sky (Bridge Rep), and Car Talk, the Musical! (Central Square Theater). She is the proud recipient of two Elliot Norton Awards and two IRNE Awards. She is an independent vocal/acting coach in Reading. Love to HB and my boys Nick and Matt! LEIGHBARRETT.COM
Will McGarrahan* (Cosmé McMoon) returns to the Lyric Stage where he performed in Stage Kiss, Company, Peter and the Starcatcher, Light Up the Sky, Into the Woods, Death of a Salesman, Becky’s New Car, The Chosen, The Temperamentals, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Grey Gardens, November, Souvenir, and Dirty Blonde. Other local credits include The Bridges of Madison County, Casa Valentina, Big Fish, Far from Heaven, Next Fall, The Drowsy Chaperone, Reckless, Some Men, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Five By Tenn, Company, The Last Sunday in June, Elegies: A Song Cycle, Ruthless!, A Class Act, A New Brain (SpeakEasy Stage), Mame (Stoneham Theater), A Raisin in the Sun (Huntington Theatre), The Wind in the Willows and Happy Days (Gloucester Stage); Nine Circles (Publick Theatre and Gloucester Stage), The Moon For The Misbegotten, Buried Child (Nora Theater), and The Wrestling Patient (SpeakEasy Stage/Boston Playwrights/40 Magnolias). Will worked as an actor, singer, and pianist for many years in Seattle before moving to Boston’s South End.
Spiro Veloudos (Director, Producing Artistic Director), now celebrating his 20th season as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage, directed Company and Camelot last season. In previous seasons, he directed Sondheim by Sondheim, Peter and the Starcatcher, Sweeney Todd, City of Angels, Into the Woods(Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards for Best Director, Best Musical, and Best Ensemble), One Man, Two Guvnors, Death of a Salesman (IRNE Award for Best Play),The Mikado, 33 Variations, On the Town, Avenue Q (Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Ensemble, five IRNE Awards including Best Musical and Best Director), The Life and Adventures ofNicholas Nickleby (Elliot Norton Award for Best Production and Best Director, five IRNE Awards including Best Director), Big River, Superior Donuts, Animal Crackers, Blithe Spirit, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, and Kiss Me, Kate. Spiro received the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State College. He was the recipient of the 2006 Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence. During his tenure, the Lyric Stage has earned numerous awards and honors including Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, Speech & Debate, Miss Witherspoon, The Old Settler), and Outstanding Musical Production (Sunday in the Park with George); IRNE Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Settler, Glengarry Glen Ross), and Outstanding Musical Production (Grey Gardens,Urinetown: The Musical, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George). His numerous directing credits at the Lyric Stage include A Little Night Music (IRNE Award for Direction), Glengarry Glen Ross(IRNE Award), Sunday in the Park with George (Best of the Year in Boston’s Globe, Herald, and Phoenix; Elliot Norton and IRNE Award for direction), Assassins (Best Production of 1998: The Boston Globe), Lostin Yonkers, Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story (Elliot Norton Award, along with Assassins), andSpeed-the-Plow (Elliot Norton for Outstanding Production). Mr. Veloudos received StageSource’s Theatre Hero Award (2003) and was named Best Artistic Director by Boston Magazine in 1999. He serves as the president for the Producers’ Association of New England Area Theatres, and is adjunct faculty in Performing Arts at Emerson College.
Skip Curtiss (Scenic Design) returns to the Lyric Stage with this production of Souvenir, after designing the scenery for the 2007 production. His previous Lyric Stage designs include Fully Committed, A Number, Dying City, Speech and Debate, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and Broke-ology. Additionally, Mr. Curtiss has worked as a scenic designer for companies in the Boston area, such as the Actor’s Shakespeare Project, the ART Institute, and Shakespeare NOW. Previously, he was Production Manager for four seasons at the Lyric Stage (2002-2006). He has been Associate Production Manager for the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge for eleven years and Production Manager of the A.R.T.’s immersive second stage, Oberon, since its creation in 2009. From 2006 to 2014, Mr. Curtiss was also Technical Director and Production Manager to the A.R.T.’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University. During his career in theatrical production, he has also worked with Hartford TheaterWorks, Goodspeed Musicals, The GAMM Theater, Brown University, and other New England theaters.
Gail Astrid Buckley** (Costume Design) returns to the Lyric Stage having designed many productions including Light Up the Sky and Sondheim on Sondheim. Recent designs include The Marriage of Figaro (Boston Lyric Opera), The Empaths (Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater), and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night (SpeakEasy Stage). Upcoming work includes the 10th anniversary of A Christmas Carol (Hanover Theater), the opera Dead Man Walking (Boston Conservatory), and She Loves Me(Stoneham Theatre). Gail has received two Elliot Norton Awards and two IRNE Awards for Costume Design. Gail is a proud member of United Scenic Artists Local 829.
Chris Hudacs (Lighting Design) returns to the Lyric Stage having previously designed Stage Kiss, Intimate Apparel, and Sondheim on Sondheim. Chris has designed lights for Boston Lyric Opera, Pilobolus Dance Theater, The A.R.T./MXAT Institute, New England Conservatory, Sylvain Emard’s “Le Grand Continental” (Celebrity Series of Boston), Pickleshoes Family Theater, Tiffany Mills Company (NYC), Gallim Dance (NYC), he York Theatre (NYC), Toy Box Theatre (NYC), Nancy Meehan Dance (NYC), Paula Josa-Jones (MA), Trinity College (Hartford, CT), Rites & Reason Theatre (Brown University) and many others. In addition, Chris has toured as a Production Manager/Technical Director with Pilobolus, Shen Wei Dance Arts, David Dorfman Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, and Stephen Petronio Dance Company. WHODAXLD.COM
David Wilson** (Sound Design) returns to the Lyric Stage having previously designed City of Angels andBarbecue. He has designed lighting or sound for over 350 productions of opera, theater, concert, and dance. He has served on the faculty of Brandeis University, heading the graduate program in sound design, and has designed and taught at Boston College, Boston Conservatory of Music, Bowdoin, Emerson, Harvard, New England Conservatory, Tufts, Suffolk and UMASS-Lowell. His designs for theater at other companies include Boston Playwrights, Central City Opera, Company One, Dibble Dance, Gloucester Stage, Merrimack Rep, Moonbox, New Rep, Nora, North Shore Music Theater, Stoneham, Shakespeare and Co, WHAT and Wheelock Family Theater. Recent designs include sound and music for The Comedy of Errors (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Elliot Norton Award) andEdward II (Actors Shakespeare Project, Elliot Norton Award). dw-design.com
Diane McLean* (Production Stage Manager) returns to the Lyric Stage having been PSM for Barbecue, Warrior Class, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? last season. She has also stage managed at Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Hartford Stage, Berkshire Theatre Festival, The Kennedy Center, and was resident stage manager at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY. Diane received her M.F.A. in Stage Management at Boston University. Love to H and C
Geena M. Forristall (Assistant Stage Manager) returns to Lyric Stage after previously working on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? last season. Select credits include Julius Caesar, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, The Tempest, Cymbeline (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company), The Weird (Off The Grid Theatre Company), Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (Company One), The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet (Bay Colony Shakespeare Company), and Sleep No More (Punchdrunk NYC/Emursive). She is also the production stage manager for the international tour of Kultar’s Mime, a devised play that blends painting, poetry, theatre, and music to explore the repetition of violence, the exploitation of minorities, and the corruption of politics. Geena holds a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts Production from Hofstra University.WWW.GMFORRISTALL.COM
Joshua Shelor (Assistant to the Director) joins the Lyric Stage for his first production. Previous work includes When January Feels Like Summer (Underground Railway Theatre), Gentle Hands (Furnace Fringe Festival), The Importance of Chastity (Emerson Shakespeare Society), and American Idiot (Musical Theatre Society of Emerson College). Mr. Shelor is a recent graduate of Emerson College, where he received a B.F.A. in Theatre and Performance. He wants to thank Spiro Veloudos for letting him have a voice in Souvenir, and to his family for letting him pursue his dreams.
Born in London, Stephen Temperley first came to the U.S. as a teenager. He acted in several plays for the Public Theatre before returning to London. There he performed in the West End, on television and in repertory. Since returning to the U.S. he has worked extensively in regional theatres and stock, on Broadway (the original company of Crazy for You) and off Broadway (Up Against It) at The Public. The first of his plays to be produced was Beside the Seaside at the Hudson Guild. Plays that followed include Money/Mercy at the Chelsea Theatre Center (Mercy was later seen at the first HBO New Writers Workshop in Los Angeles) and Dance With Me, first seen at the 18th Street Theatre and then at Centenary Stage. Workshops include That Kind Of Woman for Dodger Productions and In the Country of the Free for the Mint. He made an appearance at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Amadeus in 2006 and premiered his play The Pilgrim Papers, directed by Vivian Matalon, in July at the same festival. Souvenir also debuted at the Berkshire Theatre Festival before it played Broadway.
* denotes member of Actor’s Equity Association
** denotes member of United Scenic Artists (USA-Locat 829)
*** denotes member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC)
About Florence Foster Jenkins
Has a singer ever performed with the vitality and passion of Florence Foster Jenkins? A Carnegie Hall audience has certainly never witnessed such a splendidly horrible performance. Somehow, her powerful voice never seemed to find the right notes. Yet, she sang on with conviction, and somehow it worked.
Born in 1868 as Florence Foster, she was the daughter of Charles Dorrance Foster, a banker and member of the Pennsylvania legislature. Charles Foster instilled a deep passion for music in his daughter at a young age. She started out a piano player, but an arm injury shifted her attention to singing. When her father would not allow her to pursue her dream of studying and performing music, Florence eloped with Dr. Thomas Jenkins. Together, they settled in Philadelphia. The couple was divorced in 1902 and Florence subsequently moved to New York City. After her father’s death in 1909, Florence used her inheritance to enhance her city life. In addition, she finally began to pursue her passion for music and performing.
As portrayed in Stephen Temperley’s “fantasia” on her life, the majority of her performing career consisted of annual benefit recitals and small concerts given for the numerous charities she supported. Audiences were limited by the capacity of the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom, her preferred venue. Early patrons were friends and acquaintances, but as word spread about her “talent,” strangers, as well as the crème de la crème of New York Society came, too. Fans included Cole Porter (who wrote a song for Florence), Beatrice Lillie and Thomas Beecham, who played her songs on the British radio.
Laughter in the audience was contagious; audience members would stuff their mouths with their handkerchiefs to keep from laughing. “At that time, Frank Sinatra had started to sing, and the teenagers used to faint during his notes and scream. She thought she was producing the same kind of an effect, and when these salvos of applause came, she took them as great marks of approval,” observed Cosme McMoon, her talented piano accompanist at all performances. “She would pause altogether and bow, many times, and then resume the song.”
In 1944, Florence succumbed to the pressure of her admirers and announced she would give a concert at Carnegie Hall. One of the most important music venues in the world, musical luminaries Duke Ellington and Leonard Bernstein made their first appearances there just one year earlier. Within weeks of her announcement, all 3,000 tickets to Florence’s October 25 debut were sold and 2,000 ticket-seekers were left disappointed. On November 26, just one month after her performance, Florence died of a sudden heart attack. Some say that the stress of the performance at Carnegie Hall at her age led to her decline in health and death. She was 78.
The legend of Florence Foster Jenkins includes many hilarious and fascinating stories: in performance, she made a habit of changing into different costumes –all self-designed – between numbers. One of her most famous, depicted on the cover of the posthumously released album The Glory (????) of the Human Voice, included a large pair of angel wings attached to her back. In one performance, she threw flowers about the stage. When the crowd cheered enthusiastically at the end, she retrieved the petals and repeated the number again. One of the most famous tales was that she claimed that experiencing a minor taxi accident enabled her to sing a high F. She tipped the driver generously and subsequently expand her repertoire to include music with the higher range. Though she claimed to be in her sixties throughout the bulk of her career, she was actually in her seventies.
Perhaps people paid attention to Florence because of her sincerity and passion about music. She was always happiest when she sang and her self-confidence seemed never to falter. Some accounts suggest that Florence never knew how she sounded to the critics. Others say that she knew, but simply did not care. She was quoted as saying, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
– By Meg Cook and Rebecca Curtiss
About Cosmé McMoon
Cosmé McMoon, Florence Foster Jenkins’s faithful accompanist, first became acquainted the “dire diva of din” in 1927.
Jenkins asked this concert pianist and aspiring composer to play for her first private concert. He continued, accompanying her for private shows at The Ritz-Carlton Ballroom, The Birdy Club, on recordings, and at her first and only performance at Carnegie Hall. Although Jenkins’s audiences were often doubled over with laughter, McMoon always played with a straight face and tried his best to highlight what little talent Jenkins had. On her recordings, McMoon can be heard adjusting the rhythm of his playing to accommodate Jenkins’s vocal shortcomings. He also composed songs for her, such as “Serenata Mexicano” and “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Their partnership lasted until her sudden death in 1944.
– Notes by Katie Kierstead