Florence Foster Jenkins was a tone-deaf opera singer and socialite in the early 1900s who was convinced that she was one of the best sopranos in the world. Souvenir looks at Jenkins and her loyal pianist Cosmé McMoon, whose tongue-in-cheek support led them to sell-out performances at Carnegie Hall before her death in 1944.
But Jenkins (played by Susie Hallatt) was more than a punchline for trendy New Yorkers. She started out as an accomplished pianist, but, after a hand injury, she turned her musical passion to singing. Unfortunately for her, she did not have the same talent for singing as she had for the piano. As a patron of the arts, Jenkins hosted performances in her home for friends and donated the money to local charities. When more people heard about Jenkins’ tone-deaf operas, her popularity increased. At one point in her career, more than 2,000 people were turned away from a Carnegie Hall performance. Like the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” none of Jenkins’ friends had the balls to tell her she was talentless.
Souvenir was written as a play by Stephen Temperley and produced Off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company in 2004. It made its Charleston debut in January to sold-out audiences. Director Keely Enright says it was the most popular Village Playhouse production of the season. “It’s easy to understand and will be especially funny for opera fans,” Enright says.
Jenkins may not have had the voice of an angel, but you have to give her props for trying. She was famously quoted as saying, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
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