The City Sentinel

Painted Sky Opera brings Florence Foster Jenkins to life in “Souvenir”

Darla Shelden Story by on February 22, 2018 . Click on author name to view all articles by this author. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Molly Cason Johnson and Joey Harbert as Florence Foster Jenkins and Cosmé McMoon in Painted Sky Opera's production of "Souvenir" at the Civic Center on Feb 23 to Mar 4. Photo by Wendy Mutz.

Molly Cason Johnson and Joey Harbert as Florence Foster Jenkins and Cosmé McMoon in Painted Sky Opera’s production of “Souvenir” at the Civic Center on Feb 23 to Mar 4. Photo by Wendy Mutz.

Staff Report

Painted Sky Opera is featuring Oklahoma City native Molly Cason Johnson as the comically terrible singer Florence Foster Jenkins in “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.” Performances are scheduled for Friday, February 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m, then on Friday March 2, and Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 4 at 2 p.m.

The poignant and sad-happy story unfolds in the intimate CitySpace Theatre in Civic Center Music Hall. Based on real-life events, “Souvenir” depicts the unique story of Jenkins, who achieved fame in the 1940s for her tone-deaf recordings of operatic favorites as well as her sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall.

The two-person play was written by Stephen Temperley in 2004 and focuses on the relationship between Jenkins and her long-suffering pianist, Cosmé McMoon, who played for her from 1929 until her death in 1944. Like the 2016 biographical film “Florence Foster Jenkins” which starred Meryl Streep as Jenkins, “Souvenir” details many important events for the unlikely singer-pianist duo, including their first meeting, their recordings, and their concert at Carnegie Hall.

“Souvenir” also features live performances of many of the songs that made Florence Foster Jenkins famous. By all accounts, Jenkins was regarded as the worst singer ever to perform at Carnegie Hall. She was infamously unaware that her concerts were popular only because her audiences loved to laugh at her inept and out-of-tune singing.

In spite of her lack of vocal ability, Florence was also a major supporter of the arts and a talented pianist who was passionate about the importance of music to all parts of society.
“I love this show partly because it presents both sides of Florence, who was a truly unique figure in musical history. Souvenir shows how ridiculously awful her singing was, but it never mocks her or becomes mean-spirited,” said stage director Rob Glaubitz.

“Florence was a good person who genuinely thought that her singing was bringing joy to people. Of course, her singing was indeed bringing people joy, but not in the way she thought.”

Molly Cason Johnson takes on the challenge of bringing Florence to life in Painted Sky Opera’s production. Johnson graduated from Oklahoma City University and performed and taught in Texas for many years before returning to Oklahoma City in 2013. She has performed locally with CityRep and Lyric Theatre among other companies. She relishes the chance to present her interpretation of Florence’s unique vocal stylings.

“As a classically-trained singer, the chance to sing badly on purpose is a delicious and rare treat for me,” said Johnson. “I have loved the vocal prep. Our cats, however, are not so amused.”

The part of Cosmé McMoon is played by recent University of Central Oklahoma graduate Joey Harbert who also shows off his pianistic and vocal skills in this production. Both Johnson and Harbert are natives of Oklahoma City.

Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins” is the second show in Painted Sky Opera’s 2017-18 season. Tickets are $30 for adults, with discounts for students, military, and seniors available in-person at the box office. Purchase advance tickets online at the Civic Center website at http://www.okcciviccenter.com or by visiting or calling their box office at 405.297.2264.

Painted Sky Opera’s 2017-18 season concludes in May with Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers”. For more information, go to www.paintedskyopera.org.

souvenir

Painted Sky Opera performs three operatic productions each year in historic Civic Center Music Hall. Photo provided.

Painted Sky Opera performs three operatic productions each year in historic Civic Center Music Hall. Photo provided.

 

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