Jack Forbes Wilson and Marguerite Willbanks in
the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of
“Souvenir.” It runs through Nov. 5 in the
theater’s Stackner Cabaret.
MILWAUKEE - We probably all delude ourselves at times.
We might think we have more talent than we have, or
less. It is hard to see ourselves objectively.
people, though, such as Florence Foster Jenkins,
believed unswervingly in her operatic voice, despite the
fact that anyone with half an ear believed otherwise.
However, because of her strong belief and determination,
plus her wealth and social prestige, she was given
opportunities that were not commensurate with her native
is a true story about a woman who lived from 1868 to
1944, performing at various venues, including Carnegie
Hall, in the ‘20s through the ‘40s. She was able to draw
big crowds of fans, whether they came to make fun of her
or enjoy her heady bravado. She made records, garnered
large contributions to her favorite charities and
apparently filled a unique niche in the world of
faithful accompanist and musical director, Cosme McMoon,
took the job initially because he needed the money but,
over time, he grew to admire the woman’s pluck if not
her off-key notes. They formed a close, caring
relationship. That in itself was interesting to watch.
actors/musicians - Marguerite Willbanks and the familiar
Jack Forbes Wilson (always a delight) played their parts
well. We were intrigued with the characters, their
unique musicianship, and the changes that evolved in
their relationship. Her flamboyant costumes (Jason
Orlenko) were also a focus of interest. One could never
predict what she might walk out on stage wearing. Again,
it demonstrated her complete confidence in her ability
as well as her wardrobe choices.
we relish Wilson’s melodic chords and arpeggios, we
simultaneously wince at Willbanks’ vocal variations. (It
can’t be easy for someone who has good pitch to imitate
someone who doesn’t.) What seemed to be Jenkins’ appeal
was the amazing fact that anyone could be this bad and
not know it. People marveled at her tin ear and her
unflagging desire to perform some of the great operatic
works, none of which are easy for anyone to sing well.
But apparently nothing could stop Jenkins.
the end of the play, so well-written by Stephen
Temperley, Cosme gives us a very reflective tribute to
Florence. He muses that perhaps she is not hearing
herself as others are hearing her. Perhaps in her own
mind, her performances are ideal, perfect renditions of
classically beautiful compositions. During the show we
hear her mangle Gounod’s “Ave Maria” and later we hear
Willbanks as Jenkins deliver a stunning rendition of
the same piece, possibly the one that Florence Foster
Jenkins was imagining. It was quite moving.
Under Laura Braza’s astute direction, we experience an
Milwaukee Rep play runs through Nov. 15 at the Stackner
Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490