Once upon a time, there was a New York socialite. This socialite wouldn’t have made it to the grand finale of American Idol, but she would have ended up alongside William Hung in reject clip infamy.
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins spans the 12-year relationship between Florence Foster Jenkins, a wannabe opera singer, and Cosme McMoon, a talented pianist, in the 1930s and 1940s. Although Jenkins believes herself to be a superb vocalist, in truth she is bad. In fact, she is really, really bad.
The first act begins with McMoon (played by Randy Risher) at the piano on the 20th anniversary of the day he met Madame Flo (Susie Hallatt). Jenkins has the audience laughing as soon as she steps on stage. McMoon feeds into the laughter with classically comical facial expressions and body language from behind the piano. The chemistry between Risher and Hallatt works perfectly for this production.
This play is not meant for a large stage; it even feels as if the audience is sitting in a room similar to one in the Ritz-Carlton, where Jenkins performed her “recitals.”
After two hours of hearing unpleasant noises from Hallatt, the show concludes with Flo singing “Ava Maria” (in Hallatt’s real voice — and as McMoon explains, the way Florence thought her voice sounded). This actress has a beautiful voice; and after two years away from the Village Playhouse, they must be happy to have her back.
Also quite impressive were Hallatt’s costume changes throughout the production. In the second act, she had seven costume changes alone during her recital at Carnegie Hall. My favorite had to be the white angel get-up (complete with wings and lots of sparkle). The white was fitting for a woman who had such an innocent, childlike view of herself.
Risher, particularly in the beginning, was hilarious. As the play progressed, there were moments when it felt like more of the attention should be focused on Flo and less on his overreaction to her ideas. He handled the stage well by himself though; every moment of his singing was pitch perfect and entertaining. And it was refreshing, too, especially after hearing Flo. The set was simple and focused around the piano where all the magic happened.
Souvenir runs throughout Piccolo Spoleto and provides two hours of comedy as well as some touching moments of personal revelations and heartfelt friendship.