Glorious! The True Story of Florence Foster Jenkins: The Worst Singer in the World has just opened for CanStage at the Bluma. It tells the tale of Ms. Jenkins, a soprano who died in 1944, shortly after giving a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall. The hook, to which the play’s subtitle alludes, is that Florence Foster Jenkins was truly an awful singer. If you want to hear for yourself, check out this recording of her singing the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Glorious! follows Florence Foster Jenkins from the time she meets her pianist, Cosmé McMoon, to her performance at Carnegie Hall, and is supposed to be an inspiring comedy about someone following her dream no matter how terrible she is. The problem with Glorious! is that art begins to imitate life a little too closely – the play seems to believe itself to be both inspirational and hilarious when, in reality, it hardly functions on a higher artistic plain than Madam Jenkins’ singing.
Once again, CanStage seems to have exhibited that they have more dollars than sense. The costumes and stage design are beautiful and a talented group of performers has been assembled. As Florence, Nicola Cavendish displays impressively precise comic timing, seeming like something of an American combination of Hyacinth Bucket and Dame Edna. Jonathan Monro is slightly less-successful as Mr. McMoon – he never seems to quite capture the bitchiness of the dialogue the script apparently requires from Florence’s obviously-gay-to-the-entire-world-but-her pianist.
Peter Quilter’s script really is to blame in this production. He tells Florence’s story as a rather tepid farce, and then attempts to make the audience really feel for a character in the play’s final, maudlin monologue whom he had been mocking entirely for the rest of the show. The biggest laughs, uncomfortably, are provided by Maria Vacratsis as Florence’s Spanish-speaking maid. It’s actually shocking to see a new play that thinks cheap shots at Mexicans, queers and the Japanese are high comedy. Like its own “diva of the sliding scale,” Glorious! seems convinced it has something remarkable to share with the world, but it is rather unfortunately mistaken.