Leigh Barrett to Lead SOUVENIR at the Lyric Stage; Cast, Creatives Set!

Leigh Barrett to Lead SOUVENIR at the Lyric Stage; Cast, Creatives Set! Spiro Veloudos remounts one of his favorite productions in celebration of his 20 years as Producing Artistic Director.

Souvenir is an affectionate portrait of Florence Foster Jenkins, one of the finest coloratura sopranos in history - but, alas, only in her own mind! Despite being called "majestically awful," her concerts in the 1930s and '40s, including a legendary appearance at Carnegie Hall, were not only sold-out but were attended by the crème de la crème of Manhattan society.

Told affectionately through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosmé McMoon, Souvenir is the sweet, inspiring, hilarious portrait of a passionate music lover who believed that "what matters most is the music you hear in your head."

Lyric Stage Company of Boston's production will star Leigh Barrett* as Florence Foster Jenkins and Will McGarrahan* as Cosmé McMoon. The creative team includes scenic designer Charles "Skip" Curtiss, costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley**, lighting designer Chris Hudacs, and sound designer David Wilson**.

Performances will run October 20 - November 19, 2017 at The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston, MA 02116, playing Wednesdays, Thursdays - 7:30pm; Wednesday matinees - 2pm, October 25 and November 8; Fridays - 8pm ; Saturdays - 3pm & 8pm; and Sundays - 3pm. Post-show Q&As with the artists are slated for October 22 and November 5, after the 3pm performance.

Tickets start at $25; Seniors - $10 off regular price; Student rush - $10; Group rates available. Contact the Box Office at 617-585-5678 or go online at lyricstage.com.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

Leigh Barrett* (Rose) has been seen at the Lyric Stage in Gypsy, Company, Sondheim on Sondheim, City of Angels, Grey Gardens, Souvenir, Nicholas Nickelby, Big River, Animal Crackers, Follies, A Little Night Music, Mikado, Nuncrackers, and Sunday in the Park with George. Recently Leigh appeared in Mud Blue Sky with Bridge Rep. Other area credits include Closer Than Ever, Ragtime, Threepenny Opera, Indulgences, Side by Side by Sondheim, The World Goes 'Round, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Wild Party (New Rep), Passion, Great American Trailer Park Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Drowsy Chaperone, Elegies, A Class Act, Adding Machine (SpeakEasy Stage), Marry Me a Little, Jacques Brel (Gloucester Stage), Alice, Sound of Music (Wheelock Family Theater), Company (Moonbox Productions), Gypsy, Picnic, John & Jen, You Never Know, Pal Joey (Stoneham Theatre), A Christmas Carol, Singing in the Rain, and Sweeney Todd (North Shore Music Theatre), and Car Talk, the Musical! (Central Square Theater). She is the proud recipient of two Elliot Norton Awards and two IRNE Awards. She is an independent vocal/acting coach in Reading. Love to HB and my boys Nick and Matt! LeighBarrett.com

Will McGarrahan* (Cosmé McMoon) returns to the Lyric Stage where he performed in Stage Kiss, Company, Peter and the Starcatcher, Light Up the Sky, Into the Woods, Death of a Salesman, Becky's New Car, The Chosen, The Temperamentals, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Grey Gardens, November, Souvenir, and Dirty Blonde. Other local credits include Casa Valentina, Big Fish, Far from Heaven, Next Fall, The Drowsy Chaperone, Reckless, Some Men, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Five By Tenn, Company, The Last Sunday in June, Elegies: A Song Cycle, Ruthless!, A Class Act, A New Brain (SpeakEasy Stage), Mame (Stoneham Theater), A Raisin in the Sun (Huntington Theatre), The Wind in the Willows and Happy Days (Gloucester Stage); Nine Circles (Publick Theatre and Gloucester Stage), The Moon For The Misbegotten, Buried Child (Nora Theater), and The Wrestling Patient (SpeakEasy Stage/Boston Playwrights/40 Magnolias). Will worked as an actor, singer, and pianist for many years in Seattle before moving to Boston's South End.

Spiro Veloudos (Director, Producing Artistic Director), now celebrating his 20th season as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage, directed Company and Camelot last season. In previous seasons, he directed Sondheim by Sondheim, Peter and the Starcatcher, Sweeney Todd, City of Angels, Into the Woods (Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards for Best Director, Best Musical, and Best Ensemble), One Man, Two Guvnors, Death of a Salesman (IRNE Award for Best Play),The Mikado, 33 Variations, On the Town, Avenue Q (Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Ensemble, five IRNE Awards including Best Musical and Best Director), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Elliot Norton Award for Best Production and Best Director, five IRNE Awards including Best Director), Big River, Superior Donuts, Animal Crackers, Blithe Spirit, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, and Kiss Me, Kate. Spiro received the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State College. He was the recipient of the 2006 Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence. During his tenure, the Lyric Stage has earned numerous awards and honors including Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, Speech & Debate, Miss Witherspoon, The Old Settler), and Outstanding Musical Production (Sunday in the Park with George); IRNE Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Settler, Glengarry Glen Ross), and Outstanding Musical Production (Grey Gardens, Urinetown: The Musical, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George). His numerous directing credits at the Lyric Stage include A Little Night Music (IRNE Award for Direction), Glengarry Glen Ross (IRNE Award), Sunday in the Park with George (Best of the Year in Boston's Globe, Herald, and Phoenix; Elliot Norton and IRNE Award for direction), Assassins (Best Production of 1998: The Boston Globe), Lost in Yonkers, Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story (Elliot Norton Award, along with Assassins), and Speed-the-Plow (Elliot Norton for Outstanding Production). Mr. Veloudos received StageSource's Theatre Hero Award (2003) and was named Best Artistic Director by Boston Magazine in 1999. He serves as the president for the Producers' Association of New England Area Theatres, and is adjunct faculty in Performing Arts at Emerson College.

Born in London, Stephen Temperley first came to the U.S. as a teenager. He acted in several plays for The Public Theatre before returning to London. There he performed in the West End, on television and in repertory. Since returning to the U.S. he has worked extensively in regional theatres and stock, on Broadway (the original company of Crazy for You) and off Broadway (Up Against It) at The Public. The first of his plays to be produced was Beside the Seaside at the Hudson Guild. Plays that followed include Money/Mercy at the Chelsea Theatre Center (Mercy was later seen at the first HBO New Writers Workshop in Los Angeles) and Dance With Me, first seen at the 18th Street Theatre and then at Centenary Stage. Workshops include That Kind Of Woman for Dodger Productions and In the Country of the Free for the Mint. He made an appearance at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Amadeus in 2006 and premiered his play The Pilgrim Papers, directed by Vivian Matalon, in July at the same festival. Souvenir also debuted at the Berkshire Theatre Festival before it played Broadway.

Born Florence Foster in 1868 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Jenkins received music lessons as a child, and expressed a desire to go abroad to study music. Her wealthy father refused to pay the bill, so she eloped to Philadelphia with Frank Thornton Jenkins, a medical doctor (the two divorced in 1902). She earned a living there as a teacher and pianist. Upon her father's death in 1909, Jenkins inherited a sum of money which allowed her to take up the singing career that had been discouraged by her parents and former husband. She became involved in the musical life of Philadelphia, founding and funding the Verdi Club, took singing lessons, and began to give recitals, her first in 1912. Her mother's death in 1928 when Florence was 60 gave her additional freedom and resources to pursue singing.

From her recordings, it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch and rhythm and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Nonetheless, she became tremendously popular in her unconventional way. Her audiences apparently loved her for the amusement she provided rather than her musical ability. Critics often described her work in a backhanded way that may have served to pique public curiosity.

Despite her patent lack of ability, Jenkins was firmly convinced of her greatness. She compared herself favorably to the renowned sopranos Frieda Hempel and Luisa Tetrazzini, and dismissed the laughter which often came from the audience during her performances as coming from her rivals consumed by "professional jealousy." She was aware of her critics, however, saying "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

The music Jenkins tackled in her recitals was a mixture of the standard operatic repertoire by the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Strauss (all of them well beyond her technical ability), Lieder (including works by Johannes Brahms and Joaquín Valverde's "Clavelitos," a favorite encore), and songs composed by herself or her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon. Jenkins often wore elaborate costumes that she designed herself, sometimes appearing in wings and tinsel, and, for "Clavelitos," throwing flowers into the audience while fluttering a fan and sporting more flowers in her hair.

After a taxicab crash in 1943 she found she could sing "a higher F than ever before." Instead of a lawsuit against the taxicab company, she sent the driver a box of expensive cigars.

In spite of public demand for more appearances, Jenkins restricted her rare performances to a few favorite venues, and her annual recital at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in New York City. Attendance of her recitals was always limited to her loyal clubwomen and a select few others - she handled distribution of the coveted tickets herself. At the age of 76, Jenkins finally yielded to public demand and performed at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944. So anticipated was the performance that tickets for the event sold out weeks in advance. Jenkins died a month later.

Jenkins recorded nine arias on five 78-rpm records, which have been reissued on three CDs. The Muse Surmounted: Florence Foster Jenkins and Eleven of Her Rivals (Homophone Records) contains only one Jenkins' performance, "Valse Caressante", for voice, flute & piano, but it includes an interview with the composer, her accompanist, Mr. McMoon. The Glory (????) of the Human Voice (RCA Victor) contains the other eight arias, all accompanied by McMoon. Murder on the High Cs (Naxos) contains all nine arias plus performances by others, but it lacks the interview with McMoon. In 2001, a play about Jenkins by Chris Ballance had a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. Souvenir, another play about Jenkins' life, opened on Broadway in November 2005, and starred Judy Kaye as Jenkins. Meanwhile, another play about Jenkins, Glorious by Peter Quilter, opened in September 2005 in England. It starred Maureen Lipman, who, in the words of the New York Times reviewer, provided the requisite "terrible singing."

Cosmé McMoon, Florence Foster Jenkin's faithful accompanist, was born Cosmé McMunn in 1901 in Mapimí, Mexico, the son of Maria (Valadez) and Cosmé McMunn. His paternal grandparents were Irish and his mother was of Mexican descent. He moved with his family to San Antonio, Texas around 1911. He moved to New York City around 1920 to further his musical studies, and likely adopted the McMoon spelling around that time. Jenkins met McMoon in the late 1920s, and knowing McMoon was a concert pianist, eventually asked him to help her prepare for her performances and accompany her. McMoon composed songs for Ms. Jenkins including "Serenata Mexicano" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper". Their partnership lasted until her sudden death in 1944, just one month after her famous Carnegie Hall appearance.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA)
** United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829


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