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Souvenir
by Stephen Temperley
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Max & Louie Productions
December 15, 2017

Paul Cereghino, Debby Lennon
Photo by Patrick Huber
Max & Louie Productions

Florence Foster Jenkins has gotten more notoriety than she could have predicted, even though she probably would have loved it. Even decades after her death in 1944, the socialite and wanna-be classical singer is probably more well-known than ever, thanks to the eponymous acclaimed film starring Meryl Streep as well as the play Souvenir, Stephen Temperley’s charming two-character comedy that’s now onstage at the Marcelle, presented by the always excellent Max & Louie productions. It’s a well-cast production that highlights an important relationship in Jenkins’s life, and provides a showcase for two immensely talented local performers.

The play tells the unlikely but true story of Jenkins (Debby Lennon) through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosme McMoon (Paul Cereghino), who is initially shown reminiscing about their relationship 20 years after Jenkins’s death. McMoon then goes on to tell the story of how they met, and how they formed an unlikely team, and after McMoon’s initial shock at the combination of Jenkins’s personal confidence and her lack of discernible singing talent, the working relationship grew into a close friendship.  That’s basically the story, told with much humor but in an affectionate way rather than a ridiculing way. Even though Jenkins really isn’t the great singer she imagines herself to be, she’s got a lot of personal strength, and a truly enviable level of self-confidence. McMoon, over the years, grows to admire her and even feel protective of her, and their unfolding relationship is a joy to witness. Although for the most part, the tone of this piece is comic, there are also some poignant dramatic moments, leading to a truly touching and heartfelt conclusion.

While the script itself is excellent, what makes this production shine most of all is its casting. There are two remarkable performances here. I’ve been told by several trained singers that in order to accurately portray “bad” singing on purpose, it takes a great singer, and Lennon is that and more. The beauty of a piece like this is that it gives Lennon the opportunity to show off her “bad” singing as well as–in a fantasy sequence–her genuinely great singing. Lennon also has such an endearing quality about her as Jenkins that, even though her singing is spectacularly bad, the audience loves her for it. There are so many levels to Lennon’s performance, from humor to an undercurrent of loneliness and desire to be loved. Cereghino is every bit her match as McMoon, as well, getting the chance to show off his excellent piano skills in addition to his acting. His McMoon is charming and supremely likable, as well, and the growing friendship between these two is made all the more believable because of the excellent chemistry between Cereghino and Lennon. The comic timing is first-rate, and the dramatic moments are given just the right weight, as well.

The time, place, and mood of this show is well-maintained in the technical aspects, as well. Dunsi Dai’s gorgeous set, backed by a dazzling video wall/ceiling, provides the right backdrop for the show. There are also wonderful costumes by Teresa Doggett–from Jenkins’s various costumes ranging from classy to outrageous, to McMoon’s stylish suit and tux. There’s also excellent work from lighting designers Patrick Huber and Tony Anselmo, as well as sound designer Casey Hunter. The world of Jenkins and McMoon and the overall milieu of 1930s and 40s New York is communicated with a great deal of style.

This is a remarkable production. The two leads shine, as does the whole show. It looks good and it’s thoroughly fascinating and compelling. A character who could easily be lampooned and ridiculed is given an affectionate tribute here, as is the fond friendship between the “singer” and her accompanist. This is a Souvenir worth celebrating.

Debby Lennon, Paul Cereghino
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions is presenting Souvenir at the Marcelle Theatre until December 31, 2017.

 

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