January 14 – February 5, 2017
In 1940’s New York, the performer who everyone wanted to see was Florence Foster Jenkins, a joyous and enthusiastic soprano whose deplorable lack of pitch and tone left her audiences falling about with laughter. Known as ‘the worst singer in the world’, she warbles and screeches through charity recitals, extravagant balls, bizarre recording sessions, and an ultimate triumph at Carnegie Hall. A hilarious and heart-warming comedy showcased in the 2016 film Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep.
Living in the heart of Manhattan c. 1944, Florence Foster Jenkins (AnnaLisa Erickson) is a woman of means. Living off a rather large inheritance, she keeps herself busy by becoming involved in her many interests. One of these personal passions is to become a soprano. However, her vocal pitch is far from being perfect. In fact, it’s downright awful! Her “boyfriend” St Clair Byfield (Larry Gesling) a man of British decent whose trade is a thespian, is aware of her actual talent, but supports her in what she wants to do in spite of what those who hear her sing may think. With the various charity recitals and extravagant balls her dose her singing, she hires Cosme McMoon (Eric Pierce), a young man who performs on the piano while she vocalizes. Her good friend and fellow society woman Dorothy (Joanna Churgin, alternating with Marina Tidwell), supports Florence as much as anyone else within her close circle. However, they will not admit that her singing needs work–lots of it! This notion of those that hear her singing, laughing in the process, won’t stop Florence as her reachers her high peak by holding a concert in Carnegie Hall. Will this woman make out with a song as a swan, or as her swan song?
This play with songs, comparing this to a traditional musical as this is not, is charming, witty, and heartwarming to boot. This tale of a woman who believed she was a great vocalist when everyone thought otherwise is based upon an actual person. Her tale was first brought to the public attention by playwright Peter Quiliter who discovered the woman’s “talent” by hearing a recording of her screeching through an operatic aura. The play first opened in Birmingham England in the middle 2000‘s, later moving to London’s west end theatre scene where it became a hit. It eventually became a feature film that sported the name of this “first lady of the sliding scale” (what the critics called her) that sang her way through fame! In this Morgan-Wixson production, AnnaLisa Erickson as Florence plays her role as a very sweet woman that holds very good intentions for herself. She has heart and appeal with a very bad vocal pitch! Eric Pierce as Cosme McMoon is a man that also feels for Florence, in spite of her bad singing. She even treats him as the son she never had, encouraging him to even settle down with a woman. (He does find settling down with someone appearing, but not necessarily with Florence’s named suggestion!) Larry Gesling as St. Clair Byfield is more of a “ham actor” type that a serious thespian, although he has performed in a few of The Bard’s plays of old! Joanna Churgin as Dorothy is just as eccentric as Florence, running around with other society women that are involved with a number of the woman’s clubs made popular in New York long before the days of television. Adding to the cast is Diane Baker as Mrs. Verrinbder-Gedge, a music loving woman that wants Florence silenced, and Arriella Fiore as Maria, Florence’s hispanic maid that speaks only Spanish but understands English as well as everyone else!
Anne Gesling serves as both musical director and stage director in this M-W production, keeping the pace fully active while adding to the music score that Florence attempts to sing.
In addition to the performing seen on stage is Thomas Brown’s set design that displays the various settings where Florence makes her mark in the musical world, from her apartment filled with 19th century-era furnishings, to a rather plain recording studio, shifting upon the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, winding up on the stage of Carnegie Hall!
GLORIOUS! is just that! For those that have their hopes of becoming a great vocal talent that proves otherwise, this stage production can serve as an inspirational piece. It’s more encouraging that one of those many (too many?) talent shows that currently grace the TV landscape. The talent found on those programs don’t necessarily sing opera auras, but what do they really know anyway?