‘Souvenir’ a production to remember
There are two things to keep in mind when attending "Souvenir," a memorable comedy with music now playing at TheatreWorks in New Milford.
First, this work by Stephen Temperley, directed by Sonnie Osborne, is based on facts told by Cosme McMoon, accompanist to Florence Foster Jenkins. The second thing to keep in mind is that Priscilla Squiers is an exceptionally fine vocalist. She plays the role of Jenkins, a rich socialite who believed she was a great soprano, but actually was tone deaf and a terrible singer.
From start to finish, this two-person play never stops delighting the audience. Stories almost too outrageous to be true are told by piano accompanist and actor Greg Chrzczon who plays the socialite's mentor, McMoon.
We learn that McMoon was a struggling musician / composer who agreed to accompany Jenkins for a private charity concert. After he hears her sing and realizes she has no sense of pitch or key, he only agrees to take on the job because the recital is not being reviewed, is not opened to the public, and he needs the money to pay his rent.
However, one concert is not enough for Jenkins, who continually attracts larger audiences. McMoon is always mindful of his own reputation and cautious of his collaboration with Jenkins. He realizes her performances are seen as comic, while she believes her fans seriously appreciate her voice.
It is the growth of the relationship between the two characters that is really at the heart of this endearing play. It starts off in the 1960s, and looks back 20 years, making this a true memory play. The audience sees how McMoon gradually changes his attitude toward Jenkins and his belief that "what matters most is the music you hear in your head."
What is so special about this off-key opera singer is that she has complete dedication to the art of music and has an uncompromising sense of confidence. She just doesn't hear herself and is most likely tone deaf. She doesn't hear the audience's laughter either.
As for Chrzczon and Squiers, whom I saw in their debut performance of this show in Westport last spring, they have gotten even better than their previous rave-reviewed performances.
Chrzczon is so natural and likable a narrator and such a fine accompanist that whether he is playing a happy tune, stepping out of a song to share an anecdote, or playing a few strains of an opera, he never fails to entertain while progressing the storyline.
Squiers, who not only plays such a challenging role, but designed her own costumes, has claimed this role with repeated superior performances. Her facial expressions as she warms up for singing as well as her gracious gestures win the audience over.
On Thursday night's performance, some of the audience members were crying they were laughing so much.
However, be prepared for the final scene, when you will be blown away by Squiers' most memorable moments.
While there is music in the show, this is not a musical. The play made it to Broadway where it was nominated for several awards.