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Carl J. Danielsen as Cosme McMoon and Nancy Johnston as Florence Foster Jenkins. Photo by Lindsay Raymondjack.
Carl J. Danielsen as Cosme McMoon and Nancy Johnston as Florence Foster Jenkins. Photo by Lindsay Raymondjack.

Theatre Review: "Souvenir" at Vermont Stage Company

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Souvenir is running at Vermont Stage Company in the FlynnSpace through February 7 and at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury February 11-13. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

The Vermont Stage Company's production of SOUVENIR by Stephen Temperley currently running at the FlynnSpace in Burlington is just plain terrific.  The tightly written script tells the story of the relationship between Florence Foster Jenkins and her long-time coach and pianist Cosme McMoon. 

Miss Jenkins was a wealthy socialite with no musical or singing ability whatsoever who was nevertheless firmly convinced of the beauty of her voice and was passionately devoted to her art.  Initially performing for friends at the Ritz Carleton, she developed a large following in the 1940s for her peculiar performances and eventually sold out Carnegie Hall.

When Florence is not onstage, Cosme communicates directly with the audience, acting as a sort of narrator.  As he says, "You see a lot from a piano bench."  He also indulges in playing and singing some popular songs of the period including one of my favorites, the haunting "Violets for Your Furs."

The foundation of a good production is good casting.  It's especially important in this sensitive piece with its exceptional musical demands from both characters.  Well, these two actors are just about perfect.  As Cosme McMoon, Carl J. Danielsen is an excellent pianist and an excellent actor.  He's a good comedian, but also shows us Cosme's sensitive side in his dealings with Florence and in questioning the ethics of protecting her from ridicule.

Nancy Johnston is wonderful as Florence.  She tackles the vocal demands of the role with great skill and is also an accomplished comedienne.  She gives a nicely layered performance, showing both Florence's determination and her vulnerability.

Best of all, these two actors have created a solid and believable relationship.  The lesson in syncopation is hilarious while the discussion about the accuracy of her ear is unexpectedly touching.  I defy anyone to remain unmoved by their final scene together.

Jeff Modereger's set with its polished floor, Persian carpets and grand piano provides an elegant playing space.  Rachel Kurland's costumes are terrific, especially the wig, all the shoes and the get-ups for the Carnegie Hall sequence.  The lighting, by Jeffrey E. Salzberg is particularly effective, as is Joel Abbott's sound.

Sara Lampert Hoover has done a splendid job of directing this delicate piece.  She's helped her actors find all the nuances of the characters and their relationship.  Florence and Cosme are real human beings that we care about.  As Cosme says, "Singing is a kind of dreaming in public," and from Florence, "What's important is what's in your head."  As I said earlier, SOUVENIR is terrific and not to be missed.

On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage Company's production of SOUVENIR gets five ferry boats and a foghorn.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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