Florence Foster Jenkins’s biography is very interesting. Born in 1868 in Pennsylvania, she became famous in the 1940’s working as a soprano, despite her lack of rhythm, pitch and tone. She could not sing a single note in tune, but her pose, and especially her money, gave her the opportunity to do concerts, to record an LP and in 1944, when she was 76 years old, even to perform at Carnegie Hall. Although her audience loved her for the amusement she provided, Florence was aware of her critics and she usually answered them with the same phrase: "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing". After reading about Glorious!, presented by the Perth Theatre Company at Downstairs at the Maj, I though that just by itself, Florence Foster Jenkins' character would be enough for creating a good play. I was almost right.
Glorious! is a good example of what can happen with a well-written text when it is not well staged. Clearly, the English playwright Peter Quilter knew what he was doing. Glorious! is not his first play based on a diva’s life. In 2005, he wrote End of the Rainbow, a musical drama about Judy Garland’s final months. In Glorious! it is possible to see how much he was interested in Florence’s life: his research was well-done and he knew how to choose the best stories and aspects of the American soprano’s life. The play itself could have been a little shorter, but this is more of a director's job than that of the playwright.
Perth Theatre Company's version of Glorious! is divided in two acts. At the end of the first act, I was a little annoyed with Monica Main’s “Spanish” house cleaner, especially because she decided a “Spanish” cleaner could speak a mix of Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. I was, however, pleased with all the rest, and had the impression that the play was fun. During the intermission, someone told me the second act would be a short 15-minute long, and I felt my first impression would hold. However, I was wrong. The second act took at least one hour, which was enough to highlight the small defects I tried to ignore during the first act.
The costumes, for example, are terrible. One could forgive Claude Marcos for his tacky dresses, because often Florence wore elaborate costumes that she designed herself, sometimes appearing in wings and tinsel. However, all dresses were badly finished, and that is harder to forgive. I could also have forgiven Jenny McNae for her work as Florence if Glorious! were a pocket show. As a two-hour-long play, I could not. McNae's performance does show that she understands her character’s feelings and her odd way of life, but all the time I had the impression that her role was sustained by somebody else’s acting. In contrast, Benj D’Addario does a great job as Cosme McMoon, Florence’s last-standing pianist. His timing as a comedian is perfect and provides that support to Jenny McNae's acting from the beginning until the very end. As mentioned before, the third actor on stage, Monica Main, is unforgivable. All her characters are unbearable and unlikely.
If I had left the theatre during intermission, I could have said that Glorious! is a nice pocket musical. However, hanging in there until the end gave me the impression that the play was well-written, but poorly staged. Furthermore, this was the second time that, after attending to a Perth Theatre Company play, I went home with the impression that they have so much fun rehearsing that they forget about the audience.
Perth Theatre Company presents a West Australian Premiere Production
by Peter Quilter
Directed by Jenny McNae
Venue: Downstairs At The Maj
Dates: 10 - 31 May 2008
Bookings: 9484 1133 www.bocsticketing.com.au