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Glorious! by Peter Quilter

Dates and Venue 24 January – 24 February 2008 | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Christopher Newton Costume Design Phillip Clarkson Set Design David Boechler Lighting Ereca Hassell

Reviewer John Jane

Long before American Idol unleashed the dubious talents of William Hung and Sanjaya Malakai on our unsuspecting ears and even before Tiny Tim amused, rather than enthralled us with “Tip Toe through the Tulips,” there was Florence Foster Jenkins.

Glorious! Is all about Madame Jenkins, as she came to be known by her numerous supporters that even included such luminaries as Cole Porter, Tallulah Bankhead and Enrico Caruso, made a three-decade career unwittingly bludgeoning the ears of opera lovers.

Jenkins however, differed from the current crop of fame-seekers in as much that she never sought fame for its own sake. All she really wanted was to perform in front of an appreciative audience and share her love of favourite arias. Unfortunately, her exuberance and verve hardly made up for her total lack of tone, pitch or rhythm.

Nicola Cavendish is perfect as the larger-than-life Jenkins, save for fact that she normally sings in the right key. Cavendish shows an incredible knack of comic timing and somehow manages to sing out of tune in such a way that it is funny without being ridiculous.

Cavendish gets great support (and first-rate accompaniment) from Jonathan Munro as her long-suffering piano player with the unlikely name of Cosme McMoon. Munro plays his role with levity and compassion, occasionally evoking pathos from the chaos.

Performances from the rest of the cast, Dolores Drake as the belligerent maid, Maria, Allan Morgan as Jenkins’ doting boyfriend, St. Clair Byfield, Goldie Semple as her devoted friend, Dorothy and Heather Lea McCallum as the truculent dissenter, Mrs Verrinder-Gedge range from over-the-top to downright outrageous.

The production style is deliberately dated, reminiscent of musical comedies from the fifties so much of the humour is double-entendre music hall at its best. The mawkish funeral scene is appallingly overplayed and mostly serves to disrupt the otherwise even pace.

Nearly all the genuine physical comedy is delivered by Nicola Cavendish herself. I’ve never heard any of Mrs. Jenkins’ recordings, but if Ms Cavendish imitation is accurate in her rendition of Johann Strauss’s Mein Herr Marquis (Laughing song), Jenkins didn’t lack volume. The opening-night audience bought into the cacophonous fun effectively playing off as the annual recital audience at the Ritz-Charlton.

David Boechler’s set is certainly lavish. Nothing seems to have been spared in re-creating Jenkins’s ornate apartment or the sea of flowers on the Carnegie Hall stage. Likewise with Philip Clarkson’s extravagant costumes, that are characteristic of forties flamboyance.

It’s not so surprising that someone with Mrs. Jenkins’ minimal talents should land a gig at the famous Carnegie Hall – after all she was a well-known socialite. What is truly incredible is that she managed to draw 3000 paying patrons to her performance.

© 2008 John Jane