1964: Greenwich Village. Cosmé McMoon flashes back to the musical career of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy New York socialite with an infamous prestige for singing out of tune. In 1932, she met McMoon and the two teamed up to foster Jenkins’ love for operatic singing in the hopes of achieving success. Over the next dozen years, their bizarre partnership yielded hilariously off-key recitals that became the talk of the town and earned them cultish fame. Christine Donahue and Timothy Smith take on these two spectacular characters for the last time one night only as a benefit performance for Opera In The Rock at The Rep.
To get excited for this hysterical and heartwarming musical event, we asked Christine and Tim their thoughts on portraying these larger-than-life characters.
“The real-life figures of Florence Foster Jenkins and Cosmé McMoon were quite something! Tell us what drew you to these characters and what you have learned while developing your roles.”
Christine Donahue as Florence Foster Jenkins: When Tim Smith handed me the playbook, he asked me to take a look at it not knowing at the time that Florence and I were practically from the same town. She was from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and I grew up in a little town directly across the river and attended Wilkes College. I had heard about this woman in college and was very familiar with her quirky approach to singing, so I read the play. It wasn’t so much a matter of “did I want to do it” but rather that “I HAD to do it”! As a singer myself reaching the waning years of my own singing abilities, so many of her words really touched me about music and life. You could easily see her as a two-dimensional character, – the crazy lady who couldn’t sing – but that’s not what happens in this play. She’s charming and disarming and a joy to know. Her enthusiasm captures the hearts of the audience and takes them on a joyride.
Timothy Smith as Cosmé McMoon: I first heard of Florence Foster Jenkins when I was in college and someone played “the record” for me. At first I thought it was a joke, but I soon realized Florence was serious about what she was doing. As a pianist myself, I wondered how the pianist on this recording, who seemed to be competent, could possibly be part of such a collaboration. Perhaps it was just for the money? Perhaps Cosmé McMoon wasn’t his real name? Now, thirty years after hearing Florence for the first time, I can totally relate to him – hustling up the gigs, hoping for that “one big break,” doubting one’s own abilities at times, and collaborating with all levels of musicians.
Having had an association with this play over the last five years, I have come to appreciate Cosmé’s sensitive soul and his desire to protect and shield Florence from all the ridicule. In developing my interpretation of the character, I have learned that the heart of what we as musicians do goes beyond the music and the audience. At its center lies the connection that grows out of the collaboration. I think Stephen Temperley has written a gem of a play that highlights this connection better than other plays and movies about Florence. And, since the story is told from Cosmé’s point of view, I really can finally understand why he might have chosen to be part of this quirky yet charming pair.
All proceeds of Souvenir: a Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins benefit Opera In The Rock, whose mission is to enrich the cultural life of Arkansas through professional opera performances emphasizing collaboration and diversity to build future audiences for this rich art form. Follow OITR on Facebook @OperaInTheRock or visit www.oitr.org for more information.
Saturday, November 2nd, 7:30 pm
General Admission: $50 | Students $25 (ID required)
Tickets on sale now at tickets.therep.org or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405