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Clague Playhouse proves with “Souvenir” that beauty is in the ear of the beholder




When is something so bad that it is good? In the history of entertainment there are many examples of “bad” movies, shows, singers, actors and etc. who became cult favorites in spite of their lack of entertainment value and talent. Yoko Ono anyone?


In her time, Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) was considered the Yoko of her time. An American socialite and amateur soprano she was known for her elaborate costuming and notably poor singing ability. It was said by some that she ranked as “the world’s worst opera singer whom no one, before or since as succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.”


What she had was chutzpah and lots of it. Unfortunately, this could not overcome her deficiency in terms of pitch, rhythm, sustaining notes and phrasing. Yet people flocked to her recitals at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel's Grand Ballroom including such luminaries as Cole Porter, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lil Pons, Sir Thomas Beecham and Enrico Caruso to name a few.


The “musical” (to use the term quite loosely) “Souvenir” by Stephen Temperley, now playing at the Clague Playhouse is the story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Laura Starnik), lovingly told by her accompanist Cosme McMoon (Corey Knick). It begins in the 60s as Cosme (now a lounge pianist) reminisces about how he met and became Flo’s musical partner through the 20s, 30s and 40s. He was a down on his luck piano player and composer who had moved to new York City to make his fortune. At the request of Jenkin’s cousin he was introduced to the singer. Her repertoire consisted mainly of operatic pieces from such composers as Mozart, Verdi, Johann Strauss, Brahms, Valverde and music composed by McMoon. She was also known for her elaborate costumes of her own design that often included wings, tinsel, flowers and such.


Her crowning achievement was a sold out concert at Carnegie Hall that had people screaming with laughter but she seemed to take no notice and continued on as if nothing was out of the usual. The reviewers, however where not as kind when the next day they lambasted the woman. New York Sun Critic Bayfield wrote “Mrs. Jenkins has a great voice. In fact, she can sing everything except notes” and The New York Post who said, “Lady Florence indulged last night in one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen.” Unfortunately, five days later Jenkins suffered a heart attack while shopping at G. Schirmer’s music store and passed away a month later at her Manhattan residence at the age of 76.


As for the Clague Playhouse production it is excellent. Corey Knick as Cosme is perfect as Flo’s foil and is able to perform various operatic and jazz pieces extremely well. Laura Starnik as Florence Foster Jenkins fits the persona of Jenkins to a “T” as she brings this larger than life woman to life. Her knack of singing “just” off key and “just” off pitch and “just” off rhythm is priceless. One great moment in the show is the final number when Laura as Jenkins sings “Ave Maria” as a straight work. It is wonderfully touching end to the show.


The show is artfully directed by Anne McEvoy who keeps the pace moving well along. Lance Switzer is the lighting designer who plays an important role in differentiating between the past and present. Lisa L. Wiley is the sound designer who adds the important background noises that make the show that much more enjoyable. Bruno Bush is the vocal coach who really got the best effort out of Laura. Ron Newell designed the exquisite art deco set that is truly functional and easily switches from music room to Carnegie Hall. Sydney DeMatteis-Geib dreamed up the outrageous costumes that are the high light of the show.


This little gem of a show is one that should not be missed. It is less about musical prowess and more about one’s love of music no matter what the consequences. The two actors work extremely well together and give a flawless performance. SEE THIS SHOW!


The Clague Playhouse production of “Souvenir” will be on stage at 1371 Clague Road, Westlake, Ohio through June 9, 2024. For tickets and more information go to www.clagueplayhouse.org or call (440) 331-0403.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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