by Bev Newcomb Madden, Director
When Rod Lansberry first mentioned Souvenir to me, he said it was the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins. I didnâ€™t remember her and it took a few days for her image to resurface in my memory. Then I began to smile. How could I forget Florence Foster Jenkins?
She was the famous fascinating soprano of twenties, thirties and forties who entertained her fans in recitals at the Ritz Carlton in New York. She paraded happily in front of audiences in strange costumes singing in her pathetic voice. She would squeal, squawk and shriek in total innocence to the beautiful music of Mozart, Verdi or Strauss until her carefully selected audiences started giggling uncontrollably and quite often had to leave the room. All the while, Mrs. Jenkins continued to warble off-key and with no sense of rhythm, completely unaware of the mirth she caused.
I also recalled that several of my contemporaries had her records which they would spin while laughing hysterically until tears fell down their cheeks. Somehow, in spite of her lack of talent, people were drawn to her recitals, and she developed a cult following that grew to national recognition and popularity. Mrs. Jenkins, of course, was thrilled.
Florence Foster Jenkins was born in 1868 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to wealthy parents and was encouraged to study vocal music as a child. Her father, however, must have seen the error of his ways, as he eventually refused to pay her music bills. After her parentsâ€™ deaths and her divorce from her husband, Florence found herself free to pursue her singing career with a vengeance.
Despite her lack of ability, Jenkins was convinced of her greatness and her recitals became legendary. She was totally dependent on the talent of her long suffering piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon, for most of her career. He began playing for her when he was quite young and in need of the money it provided. He was an accomplished musician with great patience for Madameâ€™s lack of talent and they subsequently developed a tender friendship that lasted until her death in 1944.
Souvenir was presented on Broadway for a limited run in the fall of 2005. This unusual comedy starred the multi-talented Judy Kaye as Mrs. Jenkins with Donald Corren as Cosme. The Arvada Center has accepted this huge challenge for two actors with great enthusiasm and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work as director on this true story.We hope audiences will enjoy this souvenir of our damaged diva and her frustrated accompanist as much as we have in bringing it to you.
— Reprinted from the article Directorâ€™s Notes by Bev Newcomb Madden, Director in The Center Magazine Fall 2006.