There's something exciting about a live performance based on someone's real-life story; patrons are entertained and educated at the same time.
In Peter Quilter's "Glorious!" on stage at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach through Feb. 7, that real life story is about Florence Foster Jenkins, an America soprano and socialite who earned the title "The Worst Singer in the World."
Rosina Reynolds and Christopher M. Williams direct this delightful and exceptionally funny comedy. The play begins with video clips of Jenkins, who lived from 1868 to 1944. With no vocal talent, her father forbade her to sing publicly, but once he passed away and left her a fortune, Jenkins sang her heart out.
She sold-out a Carnegie Hall performance where patrons found the singer more hilarious than blessed with talent. She didn't mind at all.
As the videos end, her accompanist Cosme McMoon (David Bean) steps from the shadows to explain how he came to know Florence. He says he was told that this great artist was looking for a piano player for her concerts.
Cosme heads to her apartment where he's clearly nervous from the first moment on as Florence fawns over him telling him he's a handsome young man. With his face to the audience, he frowns and grimaces at the idea until he suddenly uncrosses his legs and stiffens in the chair. Throughout their first moments together, Cosme is hilarious with every precise inflection, but nothing compares to his reaction when he finally gets Florence, whom he calls Madame, to sing. After days together she turns his horror into complete devotion.
Terrific performances make "Glorious!" intriguing and highly amusing. Susan Denaker ("A View From the Bridge," "Sweet Bird of Youth") is perfect as Florence. She charms the theatre audience much as the real Florence must have done. Her joyful and exuberant personality overrides any thoughts of tuning out her off-key notes. Anyone who knows anything about music knows it's extremely difficult for an accomplished singer to sing an operatic aria, but to purposely sing it out-of-tune takes moxie. Denaker never falters in producing bad notes.
David McBean ("Shipwrecked!" "Fully Committed") offers a tour-de-force performance as Cosme. He plays the piano with aplomb and has the audience laughing all the way through the show. In one scene, Florence arrives after a car crash, totally fine except that she's noticed she can now hit a high-C note. To demonstrate, she must slap her forehead to re-enact her bump on the windshield and then a most irritating note comes out of her mouth. That's funny, but Cosme's reaction tops it.
Florence's good friend, Dorothy, is played by Annie Hinton ("Importance of Being Earnest," "Veronica Mars"), and Hinton also plays Maria and Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge. As Dorothy, she is Betty White-esque when commending Cosme on his compliance with Florence. She's sweet and a tad drifty, but when Hinton steps into Maria's (Florence's servant's) shoes, she's a piece of burnt toast on a platter of petit fours and she elicits further laughs from the audience.
The direction of the play is superb and the dialogue witty. It's all tongue-in-cheek when Florence utters the line in the show, "You will never hear a voice like this at Carnegie Hall again!"
"Glorious!" is great entertainment that requires nothing more than the ability to laugh a lot. You may not see a show like this again!
- Performances: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. some Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays–Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 7.
- Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
- Tickets: $30-$47, (858) 481-1055, www.northcoastrep.org