“Glorious” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 18, 2010


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Fabled off-key singer Florence Foster Jenkins prompted two theatrical tributes. “Souvenir,” was a 2007 Arizona Theatre Company production starring Broadway star Judy Kaye. Now, Phoenix Theatre’s “Glorious” tries to expand the focus on Jenkins to include a few close consorts. We marvel at Jenkins’ terrible crooning as the “Queen of the Sliding Scale” and, like her audiences, we laugh at how awful she sounds. But just how interesting is Jenkins and how long can one listen to painful singing before getting bored? The answer is not long.

In “Glorious” the two hour Jenkins treatment drags on forever. The other characters don’t add much since these blindly loyal people never get Jenkins to realize how awful she sounds, that her awkward dance attempts are klutzy, or that her outlandish costumes further stress the joke. This talent-less woman and the importance of her music grows tedious.

Playwright Peter Quilter adds Jenkins’ longtime lover, St. Clair, her maid, and a friend, Dorothy, along with her pianist/accompanist Cosme, the only other “Souvenir” character. The plot plods as Quilter devotes much time to Jenkins’ terrible crooning of several famous operatic arias.

This singer, whether at a social gala in a ritzy hotel or at her final 1944 sold-out Carnegie Hall concert, a month before her death, butchers each aria with the same painful assaults on the written music. Her relationship with St. Clair never lets us see any real love, her friend seems to ignore the singer’s dreadful singing, and Jenkins’ maid is a nothing addition. It would be nice to better understand this bizarre character and not just laugh at her.

The Phoenix Theatre production is proficient. It’s nicely staged by Daniel Schay and the cast executes the one dimensional characters with comedic flair. Neva Rae Powers has made a career of playing Florence in both shows. Her dreadful dances and tuneless singing never go anywhere. She’s funny in a Lucille Ball madcap way as she tries to sell the singer’s musical stupidity and lack of talent to make us laugh. Powers never lets us in Jenkins’ mind, though.

Jeffrey Wolf dashes about being pushy as St. Clair, Linda Sandee-Larson dotters around as Dorothy, a clueless hanger-on, while Maria Amorocho shrieks and rants as the whacked out maid. Toby Yatso plays Cosme with an effete character appropriate swishiness but his exemplary piano playing is amazingly artful. This character blindly supports Jenkins but really knows how awful she is.

If you saw “Souvenir” you will be bored by another look at Florence Foster Jenkins but let’s face it, this off-key loser just isn’t that interesting or funny. “Glorious” continues through Sunday, January 24. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D