Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins at the Walnut Street Theatre

by Marialena Rago

I don’t think I have ever seen a show quite like Walnut Street Theatre’s Souvenir. Based on the life of eccentric opera singer, Florence Foster Jenkins, the majority of the show is sung…well badly. 

This is the point, of course, since Foster Jenkins is known for being the worst singer to grace Carnegie Hall. The show, written by Stephen Temperley, is told through the eyes of Foster Jenkins’ long time pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Jonas Cohen). McMoon takes the audience on the hysterical and heartfelt journey of how he met Foster Jenkins (Rebecca Robbins) all the way up to her death only a month after her famous concert. 

You won’t be leaving the show with songs stuck in your head, but you will leave it with an “I can do anything” attitude that Foster Jenkins had, despite not being able to sing. Throughout the show she persists that she has the most gorgeous voice, but like McMoon says in one of his many monologues to the audience, she doesn’t do it in a vain way. Instead she she talks so surely about her ability that it makes you believe that she is capable of singing anything. Even Mozart’s “Queen of the Night”.

Regardless of Foster Jenkins ability, McMoon stays with her for twelve years and we hear what it was like for him to accompany such a horrible singer. There were times that I would have liked to hear what was going through Foster Jenkins head more than what her pianist was thinking, but Robbins’ facial expressions showed what she was thinking.

Robbins tackles the role of Foster Jenkins brilliantly. Singing bad is almost as hard as singing well and Robbins can sing bad pretty well. You get a taste of what Robbins really can do at the very end of the production when she sings “Ave Maria” so beautifully you wish that you could hear her sing the rest of the show that way. Her chemistry with Cohen is great. When they are together, they are funny and light up the stage.

The show is very cute and is a great story of what you can do if you truly believe in yourself. It is a small production that is great for a laugh and some inspiration.

Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins runs September 12 – October 15, 2017 at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio. Visit walnutstreettheatre.org for tickets.

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