A singular diva charms

Tina Farmer – KDHX, December 16, 2017

Max and Louie Productions presents Souvenir, in performance through December 31. After an injury derailed her dreams of being a concert pianist, Florence Foster Jenkins, a music lover and wealthy socialite refocused her goals. She set her sights on becoming a successful singer – and wasn’t about to let the fact that she was essentially tone-deaf slow her down. Remarkably, the determined woman enjoyed a successful career that included numerous standing ovations, a devoted and almost cult-like following of fans, and, perhaps most notably, a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.

“Florence’s story is a story of friendship as much as her steadfast and unfailing belief,” notes Debby Lennon, who plays the infamous diva. “And costumes,” Paul Cereghino, who accompanies her as Cosme McMoon, chimes in with a laugh. Lennon laughs in agreement, “It’s true, (costumer) Teresa Doggett created about 15 gorgeous costumes. It’s exhausting, but fun, and part of the whole experience.” The two actors get along like old friends, adding authenticity to their portrayals, and both are accomplished musicians. “There’s actually something difficult but very freeing to playing Florence,” Lennon observes, “as you listen to her recordings – the pair made six – you realize that she’s close, but off pitch just enough to be horribly distracting.”

Though Jenkins generosity as a patron and philanthropist helped open doors and secure recitals, she benefited immeasurably from the devotion and dedication of her longtime partner and pianist, McMoon. “As their relationship continues,” Cereghino offers, “you see that Cosme cares deeply for Florence and not simply his reputation. He tries to arrange things in ways that will protect her.” McMoon admires Jenkins tenacity and unwavering belief, and he needs her constancy because he feels like he’s unraveling. In this way, Souvenir is as much a character study as it is a fantastically comic musical adventure.

“Here’s a woman of limited abilities, but she had such a warm, generous spirit, she was able to accomplish so much,” Lennon explains. “She had celebrity fans like Cole Porter, collaborated with Toscanini, and had great teachers and vocal coaches in addition to her dear Cosme.” The spirited Souvenir mixes comedy and cabaret recital style performances with an uplifting tale of an unusual and unexpected friendship.