Florence Foster Jenkins was one of New York's most celebrated sopranos in the 1940s. Yet she suffered from a lack of rhythm, couldn't sustain a note and sang off key. So why was she beloved? That's the question playwright Peter Quilter explores in Glorious, currently at the Apple Hill Playhouse.
Chief attributes of Jenkins' success included her admirable determination, her unfaltering self-confidence and her large bank account. However, what ultimately catapulted her to the pinnacle of her career, performing at Carnegie Hall, was her dedicated following, which included the likes of Cole Porter, who found her performances side-splittingly hilarious.
Glorious debuted in 2005, two months after Quilter's End of the Rainbow, about the twilight of Judy Garland's life. Glorious is told from the perspective of Jenkins' pianist, Cosme McMoon -- who, as Quilter has written, "was young and rather fey" (read: "gay"). Since David Leo's portrayal of Cosme encompasses neither adjective, most of the campy one-liners are lost. If the role called for a pianist who "was middle-aged and rather straight," Leo would fit the bill. Although Leo is a gifted pianist, he lacks a crucial sarcastic wit and comes off flat in contrast to the rest of the cast's over-the-top characterizations.
Beverly Price's portrayal of Jenkins is no doubt overflowing with boisterousness, but in the first act her high-pitched coos and eardrum-rupturing shrieks are more painful than funny. Conversely, in Act II she puts on quite a show and offers a humorous, yet endearing, portrayal of Jenkins.
Jim Mikula plays Saint Clair Byfield, Jenkin's English thespian boyfriend. Although Saint Clair claims "my accent is my selling point," Mikula's inability to sustain his "selling point" distracts from his performance.
As Jenkins' insubordinate Mexican housekeeper, Maria, Cindy Swanson delivers her dialogue entirely in Spanish and along with her scathing tone and sense of physical comedy pulls the role off flawlessly. In a dual role as Jenkins' batty friend Dorothy and the high-brow Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge, Shirley Ratner delivers her lines with superb comedic timing and works well playing off her counterparts.
Although the cast extracts some laughs, Apple Hill's Glorious, directed by Joette Salandro, lacks the campy sense of humor and comedic chemistry required to get this production off the ground.
Glorious continues through Sat., June 27. Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Road, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org.