PROVO — Walking into the Black Box Theatre at the Covey Center for the Arts, I was greeted by a simple set dressed with elegant curtains, 1940s-era furniture, and a sleek, black piano in the center of it all. Pam Cluff, scenic and lighting designer, paid attention to the details—everything from the beautiful French doors to the colorful, handmade afghan covering the bench set the scene for an up-class Manhattan apartment near the end of the second World War.
This comedic drama, Glorious!, is based on historical figure Florence Foster Jenkins, perhaps one of the world’s worst opera singers who rose to fame because of her desire to live her dreams regardless of the critical feedback she received. Director Lynne Bronson stated in a post-show discussion that she wanted to portray Florence as a multi-faceted individual, someone who was particularly eccentric and seemingly unafraid of the judgement of the world but simultaneously full of vulnerabilities; she was, ultimately, a human being. Bronson was sure to showcase both the ups and the downs of Florence’s journey as an off-pitch, operatic sensation and inspiration who was adored by her friends and considered a socialite and a philanthropist.
Directorial choices were nothing less than fantastic and well thought through. The blocking was expertly choreographed. The movements of the actors and actresses around the stage were always visually appealing and never monotonous nor dull. One highlight of Bronson’s stage directions came at the very end of the play—the room in complete darkness, aside from two single spotlights: one on the late Florence, still in her white, angelic costume, standing on one end of the theater and one on her piano player on the opposite end. The spotlights on these two literally shone a light on the connection they made through the play. It was truly glorious.
This production was just as hysterical as it was heartwarming, thanks to the diligent efforts of a variety of cast and crew members. Though Cluff’s set design was on point, much more rehearsal was definitely needed when it came to set changes. Each new scene required extensive amounts of time for props and furnishings to be moved in and out, people often holding only one item or knocking over other set pieces on stage during these set changes. Many objects were moved multiple times, rather than being placed where they belonged when first brought onto the set. With some rehearsal of set changes and direction from stage manager Paige Whitaker, these transitions have the potential to be a lot smoother.
When it comes to the cast, each had particular strengths that furthered along the performance. Skyler Bluemel was perhaps the strongest actor of the evening, playing Cosmé McMoon, Florence’s pianist. His flamboyance, honesty, and quick wit all seemed genuine, with the lines from his script coming naturally with body language to match every sassy remark. Bluemel’s timing was impeccable, like pausing for comedic effect at just the appropriate times. When asked why he was playing piano at a local café instead of participating directly in war efforts, rather than addressing the undertone of homosexuality hinted at throughout the play, Bluemel as Cosmé simply paused and said, “it beats storming the beaches of Normandy.” Bluemel also wowed me with his incredible musical abilities.
Florence, the star of the story and the show played by Jennifer Mustoe, was not quite as impressive or convincing. There were many lines that were obviously butchered. Whether it was the nerves of opening night or something else, the reiteration of lines in order to fix them was distracting to the narrative of the play. It also felt as though Mustoe was reading her lines from a script to a group of young children, rather than becoming Florence Foster Jenkins and being the upbeat, nonconformist idealist other characters made her out to be.
However, Mustoe did shine in a few moments on stage. For example, when she sang as though she were tone deaf and opened up her body to the audience or pointed an instructive finger to Cosmé to begin playing the piano, her role seemed much more fitting of the historical character she was to portray. She also showcased her acting talents during the more emotional scenes; her cries and tears appeared completely authentic, specifically during Cosmé’s heartfelt closing monologue. If Mustoe were to loosen up, to not worry about repeating every line exactly as written, and to keep her arms out rather than close to her body, her role as Florence could be stronger and less distracting to the production as a whole.
Another important character was St. Clair, Florence’s boyfriend, played by Richard Beach. His every careful and loving move or rascally comment revealed his true compassion and endearment for Florence. When St. Clair asked Florence to dance at the ball, after an amusing quip, St. Clair gently pulled her close to him and showed with his body language his tender heart and true love.
Maria, Florence’s maid who spoke only Spanish, was played by Felesha Cairo, who added extra comedy to every situation she was a part of. Though I personally did not understand every word she spoke, her facial expressions usually said it all. Even during intermission and set changes, it was obvious that Cairo stayed in character so as not to ruin the comedic effect of her role, like rolling her eyes when leaving a basket of flowers for her employer, Florence, in the center of the stage.
Though playing a more minor character appearing in only two scenes, Chealsea Mortensen as Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge was fantastic. Her judgmental attitude and authoritative posture was perfect for the part she played.
Finally comes my personal favorite actress in Glorious! at the Covey Center, Dorothy, Kelly Beck as Dorothy. Beck portrayed Florence’s best friend, who proudly wore bright red lipstick, screeched her lines with an awful New York accent, and carried around a seemingly lifeless dog. Dorothy was responsible for decorating the balls and recitals Florence put on, and Dorothy always made sure that she was not forgotten with her extravagant costumes, outlandish questions and commentary, and occasionally obnoxious reactions to Florence’s vocal performances—which was exactly the point. Beck added another uproarious aspect to the entire story as she tirelessly took on the role of Florence’s number one fan.
It would be a mistake not to mention the costume, hair, and makeup design by Ashley Magoffin. During the first act of the play, costumes and hairstyles were era-appropriate, but there was nothing spectacular as one might assume Florence’s life would have been surrounded by; however, the moment the second act began, I was not disappointed. Over-the-top outfits and accessories ornamented the stage as they appeared on the cast. One costume that was especially fun was Dorothy’s ball outfit, which matched the recital’s skylark theme. A teal dress with plenty of tulle and a matching feather boa were only the start, with bright pink birds throughout her neck-wear and giant peacock feathers atop her head that acted as a crown for this bird-in-flight. Magoffin was thoughtful and added comedy to the performance through her wardrobe choices.
The best way to summarize this story would be through one of St. Clair’s most memorable lines: “one can’t put a price tag on living one’s dream.” Live Florence Foster Jenkins’ dream through the performance of Glorious! at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, Utah, before it’s too late.