Civic Theatre, 2 Hutcheson St, Blenheim, Blenheim

03/04/2008 - 12/04/2008

Production Details

By Peter Quilter
Directed by Gavin Richards
Designed by Tolis Papazoglou


The New Zealand premiere of the West End Comedy Hit which is now a huge success worldwide, playing in over 40 countries.

A true story and a boisterous homage to the power of one woman’s unbreakable belief in herself. 

American icon Florence Foster Jenkins died in 1944.  She could hardly sing a note, but her belief that she could conquer the world of opera was unshakeable.  In the year of her death she astounded New York Society at the prestigious 3000 seat Carnegie Hall in a sell out concert, still remembered to this day and attended by the celebrity A list of the time.

Opens April 3rd at the Civic Theatre Blenheim.
Runs to 12th April. 8 pm.  Sundays 4 pm.
BOOKINGS:  TicketDirect.    

Florence Foster Jenkins - Amanda Tollemache
Cosme McMoon - Mark Lipman
St Clair Byfield - Gavin Richards
Dorothy - Vivien Bell
Maria - Tania Miller
Mrs Verrinder-Gedge - Ruth Mercier
The Verdi Club - Barb Barton, Cynthia Brooks, Cathy Cocker, Kayla Collins, Grace Cocker, Vicki Haggland, Nicky Smith.

Music by Mozart, Delibes, Bizet, J. Strauss, Chopin & Cole Porter.

Lighting Designer - Paul Towson
  Assistants - Mark Templeton, Jeremy Falconer
Sound Designer - Peter Cahill
Production Manager - Tamara Henry
Technical Manager - Paul Sainsbury
Assistant Stage Managers - Heather Stanley, Barb Barton
Costume - Annie Gleeson
  Assistants - Joan Bennett, Kay Collins
Props - Heather Stanley, Barb Barton
Hair - Lisa McKenzie, Raewyn Hunter and students from NMIT
Make-Up - Grace Simpson, Jacs Myers and students from NMIT
Set Construction - Graham Potts, Jason, Dave Anderson, Gary Fowler, Lauren Donaldson from Vintage Antique furniture
Set Assistants - Storm Stanley, Ross Logan   

Glorious! is set in New York during 1944.

Theatre ,

2 hrs, incl. interval

Victim of ridicule or beloved for her positive outlook against all odds?

Review by John Smythe 04th Apr 2008

If the story wasn’t true Glorious! would be tosh. But Florence Foster Jenkins was real. The title of one of her posthumous LPs says it all: ‘Murder on the High Cs’.

"People may say I can’t sing," said Florence, who thwarted her late father’s attempt to ensure she never assaulted public ears with her voice by using her inheritance to pursue her dream of doing just that. "But no one," she added, "can ever say I didn’t sing" – which may or may not be valid depending on how you define the verb ‘to sing’. 

Her operatic recitals became legendary on Manhattan, cultivating a cult following egged on by celebrities like Tallulah Bankhead. And it all culminated in a glorious ‘full house’ concert at Carnegie Hall. She died the following month, a legend, by then, in more than her own imagination.

Peter Quilter’s dramatisation of the F F Jenkins phenomenon, set in the final year of her life (1944, when she was 76) premiered in 2005 starring Maureen Lipman, transferred to the West End and has apparently played in over 40 countries. Now Glorious! gets its New Zealand premiere courtesy of Blenheim-based Theatre South, directed by Gavin Richards, who also plays St Clair Byfield, the fruity-voiced English-born actor who was her manager and live-in paramour.

Amanda Tollemache, now resident in Blenheim, plays Florence with flair and the requisite gauche panache. As a couple, she and Richards authentically capture the style of the shows J C Williamsons used to tour, with the likes of Googie Withers and John McCallum. Star vehicle shows, beloved of the pre-television generation, the likes of which have quite rightly been sidelines by our major professional theatres for many a decade.  

Vivien Bell likewise evokes the Forties era as Florence’s hotel suite neighbour and doting dogsbody Dorothy. Indeed, by way of reinforcing the ‘delusion’ theme, her own dead dog’s body – stuffed and upright – remains her constant companion.

The character who introduces the story and provides the coda of what became of her after her final triumph is Cosme Moon, the New York pianist who allowed the pay-rate to overcome his natural resistance to the prospect of aiding and abetting her crimes against coloratura to become her faithful accompanist and supporter. Skilled musician Mark Lipman plays this role with economic style.

Local amateur talents complete the cast. Tania Miller brings linguistic fireworks to the volatile Mexican maid Maria. Ruth Mercier playing Mrs Verrinder-Gedge, president of The Music Lovers of America (or some such outfit), who is mortally offended by Florence’s egregious assault on her senses, with an uptight pomposity that automatically alienates her from our affections, despite her articulating – at last – what most of us have surely been feeling for over an hour.

Seven other women play the Verdi Club members who double as scenery shifters, rearranging the furniture on Tolis Papazoglou’s magnificent set. Forget the box-sets of old normally associated with such plays. Instead we have stainless steel floor cladding that looks for all the world like black marble, reflecting its textures and moving shadows (lighting designer, Paul Towson) on to three cream hangings to wondrous effect. This ingenuity compensated nicely whenever the play became repetitive and predictable.

By interval the tuneless singing gag was wearing decidedly thin and I was yet to be convinced Glorious! had anything to offer beyond the chance for thespians to strut their hyper-theatrical stuff. The second half, however, does manage to flip the negative quality of delusion into a positive one of belief, while leaving us to ponder our own response to the phenomenon as we consider why Tallulah and her entourage and 3,000-odd others packed Carnegie Hall that night.

Shades here of Margherita Prakatan on the Clive James show, or Chloe from Wainuiomata, not to mention Rodney Hide in Dancing With the Stars. Were they victims of ridicule or beloved for their positive outlook against all odds? 

For an emerging regional theatre group that launched itself with The Drawer Boy then, last year, took its community by storm with a homegrown youth theatre production called War Child (involving, I’m told, a disaffected boy who had discovered his father – or was it grandfather? – committed atrocities in a war), Glorious! could be seen as a strange choice.

It’s the sort of theatre that people who don’t often go to the theatre think most theatre is, while most good, regional, community theatres around the world thrive best on reflecting their own worlds back to themselves in various popular theatre forms. But on opening night the near-capacity audience (400-odd) in Blenheim’s Civic Theatre seemed to love it


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