There’s a little bit of Florence Foster Jenkins in all of us.
The major distinction is Jenkins, brilliantly portrayed by Beverley Elliott in the current production of Glorious! at the Chemainus Theatre, had the courage to go after her dreams no matter what the circumstances or popular public reaction. Many of us only carry our ambitions so far when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
The true story of Jenkins forms the basis of Glorious! She loves to sing and perform and it fits with her bubbly personality, but the main obstacle toward reaching the pinnacle of success is her voice. It’s, well, not quite as polished as it needs to be.
But that doesn’t stop Jenkins and she’s such a lovable character, she wins people over, including the rather skeptical piano player Cosme McMoon (Elliott Loran) she hires.
Loran is superb in his role with deadpan one-liners and expressions that speak volumes in response to Jenkins’ comments. At first, Cosme takes the job with Jenkins because the money’s great, but in the end he finds her passion and zest for life truly inspirational.
“The voice in her head, her heart,” he says, is “Angelic. Perfect. Glorious!”
Angelic is an apt description with Jenkins wearing angel wings and a heavenly costume for her command performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall that some of the true artists of the day can’t believe ever happened. But Jenkins’ adoring fans aren’t there for the quality of the performance. It’s her they love for bringing much more than just a musical performance to the stage.
Standing there in her outfit, Jenkins was way ahead of her time. She may not look entirely like a Victoria’s Secret model, but she wears it well.
Getting to that point, of course, takes a lot of perseverance. There are detractors and more challenges than most people would ever bear.
Her own cranky maid Maria, one of three entirely different roles Kathryn Kerbes brings to the production, causes her consternation since she doesn’t even understand Spanish.
Kerbes delights as Maria and also as Jenkins’ friend Dorothy and as a dissenting Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge who tries to put a stop to her singing once and for all, with terrific characterizations in each case.
At one point, the banter between Jenkins and Maria is reminiscent of Basil Fawlty and Manuel in Fawlty Towers. The misunderstandings create hilarious scenes.
Jenkins and McMoon spend a lot of time together preparing rather in vain to become a unified act. Through a series of rehearsals for recording sessions and balls, they get to know each other.
When Jenkins discovers McMoon grew up in Chicago during Prohibition, “you must be thirsty,” she quips.
McMoon tries to get Jenkins to stand a little farther back from the piano when her shrill voice pounds in his eardrums. “How far back?” she ponders. “How about Canada?” he declares.
And so it goes through many trials and tribulations.
All the while, Jenkins is oblivious to McMoon being gay. He thinks she’s onto it after viewing him and another gentleman getting into a cab together. But naive Jenkins was just impressed they shared the cab fare.
Elliott’s ability to hit the high notes and deliver off-key beautiful noise is amazing. Her facial expressions while doing it in one scene with a Spanish vibe look just like Lucille Ball at Ricky Ricardo’s club and another brings the comic genius of Carol Burnett to mind.
You can tell Elliott is just having too much fun doing this and keeping a straight face must have been difficult.
Glorious! is great theatre, it’ll make you laugh, cry a little, but it mostly creates admiration for a woman who didn’t let anything hold her back
Glorious! is on a limited run until Saturday, Oct. 6.