THE BASICS: GLORIOUS, a comedy by Peter Quilter, presented by O’Connell & Company, directed by Steve Vaughan, starring Mary Kate O’Connell, Gregory Gjurich, Anne Gayley, Roger van Dette, Smirna Mercedes, runs now only through March 1, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 at The Ken-Ton Elmwood Commons, 3200 Elmwood Ave. in Tonawanda (848-0800). www.oconnellandcompany.com Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission. Wine, soda, cookies, fresh popcorn available
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This play, a remount of the 2008 Artie Award winning production directed by Javier Bustillos, is based on the true story of late 19th, early 20th century Manhattan socialite and heiress Florence Foster Jenkins who loved and supported the arts. Wanting to be a concert pianist, a childhood injury made her turn to singing and she believed herself to be a serious operatic soprano. Unfortunately, she couldn’t sing. At all. But thousands flocked to her performances in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, many at women’s social clubs, but also at Carnegie Hall, presumably to watch her fail. Not unlike prize fights, or motorcycle jumps, or those 1920s dance marathons which left contestants barely alive, there has always been a fascination with spectacular failure, or the promise of it. Jenkins entertained extensively and her calendar was kept by a former British actor named St. Clare Byfield, with whom she had a vaguely defined relationship. Her longtime piano accompanist was Cosmé McMoon. The play follows the general lines of the 2016 movie “Florence Foster Jenkins” starring Meryl Streep in the title role.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Well it’s a great cast with everyone appearing perfectly comfortable in the various roles on stage. I have to admit, I didn’t want to see the play because I was afraid that a few hours of screechy soprano singing would be too much. Yes, Mary Kate O’Connell does a fine imitation of Ms. Jenkins (whom you can hear here
in an actual performance of the incredibly demanding “Queen of the Night” aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
(For comparison, you can listen here
to the great Maria Callas or here
to operatic great, and Jenkins fan (yes, it’s true!) Lily Pons.
O’Connell, who is the impresario behind the many “Diva by Diva” shows, certainly knows how to play the diva, but with an engaging “cluelessness” that most people feel characterized the real Jenkins.
But the singing, even though completely central to the plot, is not that much of the show which really is, in style and costumes and dialog and pacing, much more of a drawing-room comedy, such as you might see at the Irish Classical Theatre or up at the Shaw Festival.
So in the end, this show is all about “people who need people” – companionship, love, affection, and understanding. And isn’t that all of us? The play, here directed by Steve Vaughan, is charming as all get out.
And the charm continues with the marvelous ensemble performance of all the other cast members, principally Greg Gjurich at the piano, who happens to be a master at playing a put upon gay man. You may have seen his Roger DeBris in THE PRODUCERS or Michael Minetti in SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS, whose costar was Anne Gayley, here appearing as Dorothy, Jenkin’s friend. Roger VanDette, whom I’ve only seen recently play a jolly bearded ghost in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, is solid as the clean-shaven St. Clair. And a real show-stopper is Smirna Mercedes as the Hispanic maid Maria, whose looks of frustration and annoyance got the whole audience laughing. If you understand Spanish, I’m led to believe, you will thoroughly enjoy her comments, especially those directed at Cosmé McMoon.
Other performers include Kate Olena as society lady Mrs. Verinder-Gedge and Assistant Stage Manager Mira Haley Steuer in a brief appearance as a bellhop. Very appropriate costumes by Adam. M. Wall make this a play worth your shoveling out and shuffling off to Kenmore-Tonawanda.
UP NEXT: The musical farce LUCKY STIFF with murder, millions, gambling, and plot twists galore all based on the novel The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. It’s at the 3200 Elmwood space April 16 through May 10. And then, from May 28 through June 21, it’s the ultimate women-to-women play, STEEL MAGNOLIAS.
Rating: Four Buffalos
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!