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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

I'm hearing a certain want of accuracy. . .some intonations are perhaps not quite what is written. —Cosme McMoon, after he recovers from his first exposure to Florence Foster Jenkins' voice, and offers the first of many highly diplomatic comments. She acknowledges his comment graciously -- but with her as usual tone-deaf self confidence, declaring "I only hear the music."

Liz McCartney in Souvenir
Liz McCartney in Souvenir
The role of Florence Foster Jenkins has been identified with Judy Kaye who played, the self-deluded prima donna at the York Theater, the Berkshire Theatre Festival and on Broadway. Now Souvenier is proving its special qualities at George Street thanks to Liz McCartney’s brilliantly/bad singing (her acting is nothing to scoff at either) and Anders Cato’s on-key direction. It may not be a coincidence that McCartney was sought for this challenging role as she has the required pipes, and has previously played the role of Rosie originated by Judy Kaye in Mamma Mia!

Souvenir is a small, intimate play in which this somewhat loveable Park Avenue matron, who is completely oblivious to her lack of talent, finds that perfect someone, "a collaborator, a soul mate," who will validate and supports her through thick and thin, or should we say over the sharps and flats. It is Cosme McMoon, an accomplished pianist who is employed by Jenkins to "polish, perfect and refine" her repertoire and also prepare her for a series of concerts that she is determined to give. Jim Walton is terrific in this significant role of a young composer of mainly art songs who becomes FFJ’s close friend and mostly very patient and accommodating accompanist for twelve years. Walton, who some of us will remember in the leading role of Franklin Shepard in the original company of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily we Roll Along, as well as dancing and singing his way through a number of Broadway musicals including and The Music Man, gives a performance that is sensitive yet direct, as it appears significantly propelled by a growing respect for the diva who was, evidently, herself propelled by something almost irrationally divine.

The play is at its best when Cosme resigns himself ("What was going on in her head?") to support Madam Flo in her determination to take on the formidable challenge. To be sure, hearing FFJ tackle the Mount Everest of arias, "Queen of the Night," as well as "The Jewel Song,"”from Faust and "The Bell Song," from Lakme are calculated to put audiences into stitches. And they do. Zaftig in form but radiant in face, McCartney conceptualizes the grandiosity of a society matron but also radiates warmth that all but melts your heart.

Except for FFJ’s smart looking period-perfect haute couture, costume Designer Tracy Christensen has gone all out to indulge her outré fantasies, especially in the famed Carnegie Hall Concert during which the diva emerges most notably with angel wings attached to her white gown to sing the "Ave Maria." You may be hard pressed to hold back your laughter, but you may also shed a tear, when she sings that hymn with the glorious voice that she hears in her head.

Set Designer Karl Elgsti has created an elegant and flexible set that makes a conversion from FFJ”S music room in her suite at the Ritz Carlton to the stage and dressing room of Carnegie Hall and back to the New York Supper Club and where Cosme reminisces years after FFJ’s death. Here he delightfully plays the piano and wittily plays pays tribute to a woman who may have not have only aspired to a "purity of tone," but, in her own mind, achieved it. Needless to say that the audience the night I attended was, as I, enraptured.

Editor's Note: To read CurtainUp's reviews of Souvenier's initial productions, go here.

By Stephen Temperley
Directed by Anders Cato
Cast: Liz McCartney and Jim Walton
Musical Director: James Royal Valcq
Set Design: Karl Eigsti
Costume Design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Jeff Davis
Sound Design: Christopher Bailey
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes with intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, NJ
From 2/27/07 to 3/25/07; opening 3/02/07
Tuesdays thru Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays 2 PM and 7 PM (No 7 PM performance on March 25)
Additional matinee performances Thursday March 8 and 22 at 2 PM; Saturdays, March 3, 17, 24 at 2 PM
Tickets: ($28 - $62) call 732/246-7717 or
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on March 2, 2007
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