What the Critics Say

 

Australian Stage

Glorious | Therry Dramatic Society

Glorious | Therry Dramatic SocietyLeft – Sue Wylie and and Jock Dunbar

I first heard Florence Foster Jenkins one morning on the radio. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that anyone could sing so badly, have the nerve to be recorded and that a reputable radio station would play it. All was explained when the announcer reminded us that it was April Fool’s Day. Not a bad joke, I thought. But Florence was no joke – not to herself anyway. To her, there was no better ‘coloratura soprano’ on earth. But why could she not hear the awful travesty she made of anything she sang? It has been suggested that regular doses of mercury and arsenic taken to combat the syphilis her husband gave her in her much earlier and failed marriage may have given her nerve damage and hearing loss and tinnitus that left her impervious to the truly horrible, flat, way-off key, screeching, hooting, wailing sounds she made in the name of opera. Just a thought – maybe it has something to do with her real first name which was Narcissa, the feminine form of Narcisse, he of the Greek legend who became enamoured of his own reflection. There’s no doubt she was enamoured of her own voice.

The Therry Society’s play, Glorious, opened outside the door of the Hotel Seymour in New York City in 1944 where a nervous, well-dressed, slim, young pianist took deep breaths before presenting himself for a job interview to accompany Madame Jenkins as she called herself. He rang, the door disappeared to reveal a lift, which went the same way heaven-wards, some suited men turned the set around and lo! we were in Madame’s apartment. The audience clapped the sheer ingenuity of it, an acknowledgement of the work of Stage Manager, Patsy Thomas, Set Designer Ole Wiebkin and the whole set construction team. Cosmé McMoon (Jock Dunbar) was in for a surprise. Madame (Sue Wylie) appeared to be wealthy, over-dressed, over confident, over the top and overwhelming. Nothing unusual there for a society woman of her class in 1944 New York. It was when the accurate rendition of his accompaniment met with her highly inaccurate, clashing, ear bashing vocal interpretation that he became, well ... gob-smacked. She asked him what he thought and he gasped, “I am lost for words.” But jobs for pianists were hard to come by, this kindly woman liked him on sight and had the money to employ him so what the heck? He took the job and, by doing so, worked with Florence in a happy and astonishing accompanying relationship where, to the best of his ability, he changed key when she did.

Florence had been putting on recitals in her apartment, in small clubs and every October in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, her first in 1912. She became a one woman cult from the 20s to her death in 1944 and it wasn’t only her singing that had her audiences amazed. She made her own elaborate, flamboyant costumes one, for instance, with wings, tinsel and flowers to represent the Angel of Inspiration and, dressed as Carmen complete with castanets and a rose in her teeth, she had them stuffing their mouths and Cole Porter hitting his foot with his cane to stop from laughing. The costumes in this show were a credit to Gilian Cordell and the team of dressmakers.

 

Florence had the encouragement of Enrico Caruso, one of the founding members of the 400 strong Verdi Club which Florence founded to foster “a love and patronage of Grand Opera in English”. Wherever she performed people clapped and cheered to overwhelm any hint of laughter, claiming her performances were “intentionally ambiguous” and anyone, including the actress Tallulah Bankhead, who behaved incorrectly was ‘helped out’. Any new member or indeed anyone who wished to be part of the audience had to be interviewed – by her – to check for their suitability although Florence was a mite naive at times such as when an effeminate young man came and was allowed to book for a group – sending her afterwards, she mused, a big bunch of pansies. Strangers, music critics, journalists and competing sopranos had no chance of getting tickets – after all they could be critical and the latter would be jealous, she said.

Caruso, who is reported to have given her affection and respect said he would never hear the like again and along with Cole Porter, Lily Pons, Andre Kostelanetz, Sir Thomas Beecham and others sent her flowers and congratulatory messages. Her biggest supporter was her friend St. Clair Bayfield (Stuart Pearce) and she his – financially. They had an understanding. It wasn’t a sexual union because of the syphilis so he had a girl friend to deal with that side of his life and he was her love and manager. Dorothy (Jenny Penny) her loyal friend and helper, was always at hand (mostly with her dog) to help and support in a jittery excitable sort of way.

Then Florence hired Carnegie Hall for October 1944, taking a gamble on all she owned. It was general admission in October 1944 and sold out weeks in advance. It seated almost 3,000 people and 2,000 were turned away. She was 76 years old and died one month and one day after that significant concert. At her own expense Florence Foster Jenkins had herself recorded singing her favourite arias in 1941 and to this day from vinyl to CDs they have never gone out of print. People loved her for her sheer gall, her absolute belief in herself and the joy her concerts gave to opera lovers and others alike. She said, “People may say I can’t sing but no-one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Very ably and sympathetically directed by Geoff BrittainGlorious is a delightful addition to the Therry Society’s list of successes. Its main cast succeeds in bringing to life and making plausible the characters in Peter Quilter’s implausible but true story. Sue Wylie is on stage just about all the time and doesn’t falter in her performance of a woman who grows on you as you watch, bringing warmth and likeability to her, never appearing anything but passionate and committed. Jock Dunbar as Cosmé is just right as the bewildered but competent pianist who, from a guy looking for a job, becomes an admirer and willing facilitator for his warm-hearted but deluded employer. Stuart Pearce’s acting as an expansive expatriate failed English actor whose love and support for Florence are real and deep, is heart warming and genuinely convincing while Jenny Penny as the fidgety dog-loving friend Dorothy, just right. Over-acting as Maria, the Italian maid, could do with some toning down by Laura Antoniazzi and Julia Whittle’s Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge’s high handed remonstrance demonstrated the frustration of opera lovers who couldn’t stand Florence while Denzil Thomas did a good job as the taxi-driver. As usual with Therry productions, performers are competently supported by a very good backstage and front of house crew from Patsy Thomas the Stage Manager to the designers of the programme, which was informative and interesting, to someone from the team to show you to your seat.

Therry Dramatic Society presents
Glorious
by Peter Quilter

Director Geoff Brittain

 

The Barefoot Review

 

Glorious!

 

Glorious Therry Dramatic Society 2018Therry Dramatic Society. Arts Theatre. 8 Feb 2018

 

One can only marvel at the work Sue Wylie must have put in to sing appallingly with such absolute skill and acuity.

 

She’s a good and experienced singer but for this role she has to become expertly tone deaf. 

 

She is portraying the world’s worst opera singer, Florence Foster Jenkins.

 

Foster Jenkins’s terrible singing generated a cult following in America in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Everyone wanted to hear her jarring off-key stridency, so much so that thousands were turned away from her 1940 Carnegie Hall concert. While people jeered and sneered at her operatic ineptitude, she remained blissfully confident of her talent.

 

She’s a wonderful true life story, complete with handsome actor boyfriend and loyal accompanist. 

 

Peter Quilter’s bio script presents a sweetly sympathetic picture of the singer though it's overwritten and at times the dialogue is leaden. 

But the main character is tailor-made for Wylie at this stage of her career. 

 

She plays it proud, unhurried and sublimely obtuse, and, when she sings, she truly hits those wrong notes. She gives it her ear-piercing all. She hams it up just enough to make it funny. But as one is laughing, one is wondering how on earth she can do it and still keep a voice for talking. 

 

She gets to make some spectacular entrances in well-wrought replicas of Foster Jenkins’ fanciful costumes, not least of them the white angel with working wings.

 

The first night audience did not need encouragement to get into the spirit of the performance and every terrible aria was met with whoops of cheering acclaim.

 

Wylie is very well supported by Stuart Pearce as her handsome English actor partner/manager. He’s charming and simpatico. Jock Dunbar hits all the right notes as Foster Jenkins’s patient pianist. It’s a sterling performance with a good American accent. Jenny Penny plays Foster Jenkin’s darling dippy friend, Dorothy. She has a lovely voice and manner and does a very good line in whirlwind dithering. Laura Antoniazzi’s specialty is rampant tantrums in Italian. She plays the maid to the hilt and then some. Last but not least, Therry stalwart Julia Whittle storms the stage representing American musical appreciation standards to call for a stop to the rampant success of the world’s worst opera singer. It is always good to see Whittle onstage and she makes a nice meaty meal of a small role.

 

There are some elaborate and ingenious Olie Wiebkin sets in this offbeat show. Lighting and look is good although it is imperative that director Geoff Brittain tightens up or trims some of the tediously slow dialogue segments.

 

The tale of Florence Foster Jenkins is gloriously unlikely. It makes an audience marvel as well as laugh. As presented by Therry, it is strangely touching. It mocks and moves at the same time.  And as for its star, Sue Wylie, she is very good at being very bad.

 

Samela Harris

The Barefoot Review

 

BWW

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 8th February 2018.

The Therry Dramatic Society is starting its year with Peter Quilter's 2005, Olivier Award nominated comedy, Glorious, dealing with the final year in the life of Florence Foster Jenkins, with the production being directed by Geoff Brittain. This is actually the fifth play to have been written about her.

Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 to November 26, 1944) was a wealthy socialite, and a truly dreadful amateur soprano, dubbed "the world's worst opera singer" by the historian, Stephen Pile. Aged 76, she booked Carnegie Hall for her first and last public recital, all previous recitals, since she began singing in 1912, having been closed to all but a few of her carefully screened friends. She suffered at the hands of many in the audience and all of the critics at that Carnegie Hall concert. Five days later she had a heart attack whilst shopping in a music store, dying a few weks after.

She was born into a wealthy Pennsylvanian family but moved to New York after marrying. She ditched her husband very quickly, after finding that she had contracted syphilis from him. She had previously been a fine pianist, but switched to singing, if that word can really be applied to her vocal efforts, after injuring an arm, which stopped her from playing. It has been suggested that syphilis, and being treated with mercury and arsenic, affected her central nervous system and hearing. Penicillin arrived in the 1940s, too late to help her.

Sue Wylie plays the eponymous character, in all her hilarious glory. She was not only famed for her appalling vocals, but also for her ridiculous costumes that were so far over the top that they were most of the way down the other side, too. It will come as no surprise to anybody who has followed Wylie's career and witnessed her many successful performances that this role is a tour de force, a highlight even for her. It is a huge role, with Wylie leaving the stage only briefly here and there for a costume change, and it entails playing a larger than life woman with, and here is the hardest part, a dreadfully inaccurate and raucous voice; no mean feat for a performer who is actually a very fine singer.

The play has a small cast and we first meet her prospective new pianist, a bewildered Cosmé McMoon (February 22, 1901 - August 22, 1980), played by Jock Dunbar. McMoon, originally McMunn, was a Mexican-American and, aside from being her accompanist, was also a composer. Although he is just meeting her in the play, he was her accompanist for many years. The role here is both as a character and also as a narrator, a role that Dunbar fills well. He shows us how his initial horror at the sound of her voice is gradually replaced by affection and support for her, a difficult feat in which Dunbar convinces.

St. Clair Bayfield (August 2, 1875 - May 19, 1967), her lover with whom she lived for forty years, and her agent and manager, was an English actor who had hoped to hit the big time in America. Stuart Pearce is suitably flamboyant, and lecherous, giving his character an overactive ego and providing pleanty of laughs. Audiences will recognise the sort of actor who blames others for giving and getting the roles he thought he should have won, rather than admit to his own lack of ability.

There are also some fictional characters in the play. Another friend and staunch supporter is Dorothy, a sycophantic simpleton who carries around her exceptionally quiet and incredibly motionless dog, Ricky, in a large basket. Jenny Penny adds plenty of fun as the airhead who, along with trying to cope with everything else going on around her, also constantly sidesteps the unwelcome advances of Bayfield, and makes hopeless romantic overtures to McMoon.

Florence has the misfortune to have employed Maria, a belligerent maid who speaks and understands only Italian. Laura Antoniazzi talks with her hands as much as her voice at each hilarious, bombastic appearance, with her Maria leaving the others cowed and confused. The role was originally written for a Mexican maid who spoke only Spanish, but an Italian maid works just as well.

Florence's nemesis at the concert is Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge, a genuine music lover, played by another mainstay on the Adelaide theatre scene, Julia Whittle, who gives us a strong and opinionated character who blusters and fumes magnificently.

Denzil Thomas appears briefly as a taxi driver who is involved in an accident, causing Florence to scream in fear, and he is ultimately rewarded for helping her to sing a high note that had previously been beyond her range.

Ole Wiebkin, who was also responsible for the scenic art, would, no doubt, be pleased that his set brought forth a huge round of applause. Richard Parkhill's lighting, as always, is well thought out, and both complements and enhances the set, as well as aiding in creating the feel of each scene. The sound and visual projections, by Ray Cullen, also add much to the production

Running, on opening night, at two hours forty minutes, it is rather too long, and this is due to a lack of pace. Wylie drives it along, and Antoniazzi delivers her lines like a machine gun, but others leave pauses through which one could drive a bus. Brittain, hopefully, has spoken to his cast about this by now and trimmed the running time.

Be sure to catch this extremely funny production which is a successful start to Therry's year.

 

Adelaide Theatre Review

 

GLORIOUS!
Therry Dramatic Society
The Arts Theatre
Until 17 Feb 2018

Review by Maggie Wood

Therry’s latest offering, directed by Geoff Brittain, is “Glorious” – the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman who was called the worst opera singer in the world.

From the 1920s to 1940s, Jenkins conducted private singing recitals, interviewing each potential audience member before they were allowed to attend. Seemingly unaware of the dismal quality of her voice, she dismissed critics and encouraged loyal friends to support her. Some say the delusion held due to the treatment she was receiving for the syphilis she contracted from her first husband – arsenic and mercury.

Sue Wylie as Florence Foster Jenkins displays real talent in singing so badly, so flawlessly. Her performance places Jenkins as a robust, yet deluded character. While Jenkins believes her voice to be melodious, Wylie has cleverly placed most of her speaking voice high in the throat, thoroughly upending that perception. Combined with the strident delivery, the portrayal is faintly reminiscent of TV sitcom character Mrs Bouquet. The similarities of delusion between the characters are not missed.

Stuart Pearce as her partner St Clair is suave and smooth. Is he a con man? One minute he’s all devotion to Jenkins and the next he is pursuing, literally, at least one other woman.

Jenny Penny plays Dorothy, a devoted friend to Jenkins who lusts after pianist McMoon, and is in turn lusted after by St Clair. 

Laura Antoniazzi does well in a trope-ridden role as an angry Italian maid, and Julia Whittle is all majesty and outrage as Mrs Verrinder-Gedge who cannot see why everyone is playing along with Jenkins’ delusions.

The character with the plum part is Jock Dunbar, playing Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon.
McMoon is the counterpoint to the blind devotion in the Jenkins inner camp. Blessed with the show’s sharpest lines and waspish comments this role pierces the bluster and delusion of the Jenkins entourage. Dunbar is appealing, and somewhat underplays his scepticism. There is potential he could bring even more to his initial bewilderment. 

The set, by Ole Wiebkin and team is lush, and costumes by Gilian Cordell and team are spot-on. Particular mention goes to The Angel of Inspiration costume by David and Trudi Williams.

Through it all the cast battle with a script that cannot decide if it is a farcical comedy holding Jenkins up as a figure of ridicule, or a story with insight into the ability of friends and supporters to look beyond the surface and see a kind and generous heart.

The number of sly-asides (that contribute nothing to the plot) intimating that Cosmo is gay is as astonishing as they are dated – even to the point of a tortuous ‘friend of Dorothy’ punchline. A plot device of an obviously toy dog that is supposed to be a real, yet dead, dog, is baffling.

The script lurches between ‘Carry-On…’ and British 70s sitcom style (both evidenced by St Clair licentiously chasing Dorothy around a table) without ever settling quite into one or the other. There is little nuance or compassion in this script by English writer Peter Quilter.

If you are interested in the motivations thoughts and dynamics of Florence Foster Jenkins, then this is not the show for you. However, if you are up for a laugh, going by the enthusiastic reaction of the audience on opening night, it succeeded in delivering.

 

TASA

The Therry Dramatic Society’s Glorious! is delightful.  Under the direction of Geoff Brittain, the six person cast brings the life and times of the non talented Miss Florence Foster Jenkins to the Arts Theatre. 

Sue Wylie (Florence Foster Jenkins), Jock Dunbar (Cosme McMoon), Stuart Pearce (St Clair Bayfield), Jenny Penny (Dorothy), Laura Antoniazzi (Maria), and Julia Whittle (Mrs Verrinder-Gedge) were consistently excellent throughout the performance.  Each one flaunted the eccentricities of their character and appeared to enjoy them as much as the audience.

The performance was greatly enhanced by its technical aspects - set design, lighting, sound, audio visual and projections.  Congratulations to Ole Wiebkin, Richard Parkhill, Jade Andriani andRay Cullen for their creative contributions and Patsy Thomas for stage management. The set changes received their own applause. I particularly loved the lift, and the glimpse through the gold curtain into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom while Florence and St Clair danced on stage under the mirror ball.

Sue Wyliewas magnificent as Florence and her singing has to be heard to be believed.  It was excruciatingly hilarious, and generated tears of laughter.  Jenny Penny’s Dorothy as Florence’s supportive friend was a lovely comic performance.  Jock Dunbar’s Cosme delivering his witty lines provided an excellent foil for Florence. Florence’s leading man Stuart Pearce as St Clair was convincing as the mature, suave and flirtatious boyfriend. Laura Antoniazzi as the voluble and unintelligible Italian maid was wonderful, and Julia Whittle storming the stage as Mrs Verrinder-Gedge was the icing on the cake.

 

 

Glam Adelaide

Theatre Review: Holiday Inn

Presented by Therry Dramatic Society
Reviewed 7 June 2018

There is nothing like an Irving Berlin musical to lift the spirits and this one does just that. Let’s not pretend the plot is more than paper thin, but it just needs to be an acceptable vehicle for Berlin’s beautiful music.

Originally a 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, later developed as a stage musical by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. It translates to the stage remarkably well. It lost a couple of the original songs like Lazy but with so many other of this composer’s catalogue to choose from that was not a problem. They seemed to have picked up songs like It’s A Lovely Day Today and Heatwave.

The set was functional and changed smoothly. Director Jude Hines chose her cast well and together with Mark DeLaine and Joanna Patrick (Musical Directors) has put together a great show. Thomas Phillips’ choreography manages to keep the 40s feel whilst being imaginative and fresh. It was also well executed.

Brady Lloyd is wonderful as the sensitive Jim, contrasted beautifully with the hyper Lindsay Prodea as Ted. Both sing and dance up a storm and react well with the ladies Nikki Gaertner Eaton (Lila) and Lauren Scarfe (Linda). Nikki is very much the ‘leading lady’/diva looking glamorous and Lauren develops Linda’s character carefully and sings better than I have heard her sing before. Next to all this ‘star’ power Kate Anolak is hilarious as the live-in help Louise. Her timing is great and she has some of the best lines.

 

The Barefoot Review

 

Holiday Inn

Therry Dramatic Society. Arts Theatre. 9 Jun 2018

 

Blockbuster musicals rarely tour any more. They’re cost prohibitive. But the zeal and expertise of Adelaide’s non-professional theatre world has meant that audiences here are not denied their gorgeous glamour.

 

Right now, it’s Holiday Inn, a singing-and-dancing, musical-comedy love story by Irving Berlin with a cast of thousands and more costumes than Mardi Gras.

It’s quite the MGM epic.

 

Jude Hines has directed this classic Broadway musical fearlessly. She has corralled a keen troupe of performers and a fabulous orchestra directed by Mark DeLaine along with a vast tribe of costumiers and dressers. The result, with simple, snappy sets from Gary Anderson, is sheer stage spectacle.

 

One of the joys of such productions is the airing it gives to developing talent. Professional theatre is largely made up of performers who once have trodden the boards unpaid. And, amateur theatre also is the place where should-be professionals have chosen to enjoy the theatre as a sideline.

 

Not everyone in this cast is Broadway standard but some certainly are close to it.

 

It is wonderful to see two leading men who can sing and dance. Lindsay Prodea even taps. Both he and Brady Lloyd are strong, seasoned performers.

 

The show centres around nightclub entertainers looking to break into Hollywood. Lloyd plays Jim, who is tired of the touring life and wants to settle down on a Connecticut farm. His fiancée, Lila, played by Nikki Gaertner Easton, does not want to give up the bright lights and is lured away from him by Prodea’s character, Ted, a selfish, vain and ambitious hoofer. Jim is left to start life on the farm, sad and broke and, it turns out, with no aptitude for farming. Luckily the farm’s former owner, Linda, played by Lauren Scarfe, has a kind heart and a theatrical bent. Firstly she hands on the lifelong farm factotum, Louise, and later, her support in turning the farm into a live performance enterprise, the Holiday Inn. It all goes gangbusters until Ted turns up.

Brady Lloyd carries the show as the romantic lead. He has an exceptionally personable stage presence. The audience rightly adores him. Prodea doesn’t get to be adored. Ted is a louse. But Prodea gives him unrelenting chutzpa and both performers are classy.

 

The female principals are not quite as vocally strong but dance well and push out the old pizzazz with style. It is Kate Anolak as the trusty jack-of-all trades who steals the show.

 

She is a powerhouse both in characterisation and in song. She simply brings a stage to life.

 

Not that this stage is short on life. It is dressed by a fabulous ensemble and an ever-changing panoply of stunning costumes and hair-dos. The big dance numbers are well choreographed by Thomas Phillips. The sound is well balanced thanks to Tim Freedman and Marty Gilbert. The sets change smoothly. There could be a few more spotlights; a small oversight.

Andy Trimmings pops in and out of the plot as Danny, the hopeful Hollywood agent. He gives the role a strong comic edge but, for the sensitivities of this day and age, director Hines might redraw the character somewhat to make it less of a racial parody.

 

There’s also one important junior role in this show, that of young Charlie the local messenger boy. It is alternated by Luca Camozzato and Charlie Zorkovic. The latter shone nicely in the performance seen by this critic.

 

Indeed, the whole show sparkles.

 

Bravo, Therry.

 

Samela Harris