A.C.T. brings back the unique sound of Florence Foster Jenkins
By Bruce Bellingham
I suppose you have to be of a certain age – an advanced one – to recall Florence Foster Jenkins. She was what we’d call today a “media fluke.” She was really Mrs. Lovett, a New York socialite, a tone-deaf diva who was convinced she was one of the greatest operatic sopranos who ever traversed the stage – a case study in self-delusion.
“I think Sarah Palin is the Florence Foster Jenkins of politics,” quips Norm Howard.
Like Palin, Jenkins, like it or not, became a sensation.
Judy Kaye returns to A.C.T. to recreate the role that got her a Tony nomination in 2006.
The story follows Florence from her rise in women’s club events to her infamous Carnegie Hall concert in 1944. I guess all the more talented sopranos were working for the USO. The concert was the stuff of legend – not so terribly different in its time than the wedding of Tiny Tim to the 17-year-old Miss Vicki on the Johnny Carson Show in 1969.
It would not be very interesting to see a play that simply poked fun at a lady who was impervious to being ridiculed in public. It wouldn’t be very nice, either. That’s called reality television.
Jenkins’s relationship with her accompanist Cosme McMoon made all the difference for the playwright.
“The play is about the difference between the way we see ourselves and the way the rest of the world sees us,” says Stephen Temperley, who started writing it 25 years ago. “It’s a story about a man who is nothing except self-doubting who meets a person with absolutely no self-doubts whatsoever.”
Temperley’s play is a tribute to a talented musician who admired this unusual woman despite her delusions.
Donald Corren (Torch Song Trilogy) plays McMoon; Vivian Matalon directs.
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins: A.C.T., 415 Geary Street (at Mason), Feb. 13 through Mar. 15 (opening night Feb. 18, 8 p.m.); tickets from $14 at 415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org