Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

17/05/2014 - 07/06/2014

Production Details

Featuring: Angela Johnson and Michael Lee Porter 

Hilarious and deeply touching…a loony triumph! Extraordinary! – NY Daily News 

Fortune Theatre is thrilled to present the Broadway hit comedy Souvenir by Stephen Temperley, the third production in its 2014 40th Anniversary Season.

Angela Johnson (Cats, A Little Night Music, Chess) plays real-life eccentric heiress Florence Foster Jenkins and Michael Lee Porter (Avenue Q, The Jungle Book, I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change) plays her long-time accompanist Cosme McMoon. 

Dubbed by her critics as the “Dire Diva of Din,” Florence Foster Jenkins enjoyed a remarkably successful concert career even though she was unburdened by talent and deliriously tone deaf.  

Her bizarre partnership with pianist Cosme McMoon yielded off-key recitals that earned them standing ovations and cultish fame – culminating in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall. 

Says Director Lara Macgregor; “I predict Souvenir will be the runaway hit of our season. Aside from the fact that it is based on a true story, it delivers humour, pathos, sheer love of music and unbridled passion. How wonderful that our season runs right through the time Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is in town. All in one weekend, Dunedin can be touched by a truly great soprano, and a soprano who thought she was truly great. What a comparison. Delicious.” 

A heartfelt, wickedly funny, true story about the limits of self-perception, Souvenir is a sweet and inspiring portrait of a passionate music lover who believed that “what matters most is the music you hear in your head”. Never has so little talent given so much joy and laughter! 

You’ll laugh ‘til you cry – there aren’t many theatrical experiences as good as Souvenir – The Boston Globe 

Production Dates:  17 May – 7 June 2014
Running Time:  Approx. 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)
Venue:  Fortune Theatre Mainstage, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Performances:  Tuesday, 6.00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm, Sunday, 4.00pm (no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $34, Adults $42, Senior Citizens $34,
Members $32, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $34
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin
Box Office 03 477 8323 or visit  


Lunchtime Bites / Thursday, 8 May, 2014 – meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library, ground floor. The cast will perform an excerpt from Souvenir with an opportunity to win tickets. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

New Zealand Première, Souvenir, Opening Night / Saturday, 17 May, 2014 7.30pm, Fortune Theatre.

Members’ Briefing / Sunday, 18 May, 2014 – meet at the Fortune bar at 3.00pm and join Director Lara Macgregor for a lively informal chat about Souvenir.

Forum / Tuesday, 20 May, 2014 – join the cast and crew for an open question and answer session following the 6.00pm show.

Audio Describe Performance / Sunday, 1 June 2014 – an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Bookings essential.

Florence Foster Jenkins:  Angela Johnson
Cosme McMoon:  Michael Lee Porter

Musical Director:  Michael Lee Porter 
Production Manager:  Lindsay Gordon 
Set Designer:  Peter King 
Set Build:  Peter King, Richard Clark 
Lighting Designer:  Stephen Kilroy 
Costume Designer:  Maryanne Wright-Smyth 
Costume Assistant:  Zoë Fox 
Stage Manager:  George Wallace 
Properties Master:  Monique Webster 
Operator:  Alexandra Le Cocq 

Enjoyable production

Review by Barbara Frame 19th May 2014

Famous for excruciatingly awful singing, Florence Foster Jenkins maintained an unshakable belief in her talent. In New York, in the 1920s, she teamed up with aspiring and capable concert pianist Cosmé McMoon. Florence needed an accompanist and, at some level, a protector. Cosmé had rent to pay. 

This is the factual basis of Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir, an unconventional and puzzling musical comedy tracking the unlikely pair’s interdependent progress to Florence’s triumphant (or otherwise) appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1944. 

Cosmé, whose narrative bookends and assists the play, has the audience’s immediate sympathy. For years he puts up with Florence squawking her way through a repertoire that includes Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria and Adele’s Laughing Song from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. He’s also a composer, and has to endure the humiliation of hearing one of his own songs publicly murdered while assuring the singer of the sublimity of her performance. He’s played with likeable desperation by actor, singer and musician Michael Lee Porter. 

At first, Florence’s character seems impenetrable, but beyond her batty confidence, magnificent self-deception and insupportable diva tendencies lies a naivety that gradually suggests the existence of a deeper personality and an answer to Cosmé’s early question, “What was she hearing?” Professional singer Angela Johnson plays her wonderfully, rendering Florence’s voice in a terrifying barn-door screech with overtones of chainsaw and midnight cat. 

The Fortune’s superb production, directed by Lara Macgregor, provides much to look at as well as listen to. Costume designer Maryanne Wright-Smythe has researched and re-created 12 outfits, including satin evening gowns, worn by the real Florence. Peter King’s set uses mirrors to create an illusion of the size and opulence of Carnegie Hall. 

Saturday night’s capacity audience was transported from helpless hilarity to bemused wonder and, at times, shocked silence. 


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Living the dream

Review by Terry MacTavish 19th May 2014

“I love not to see wretchedness o’er-charged,” demurs Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Theseus commands the abysmal performance of Nick Bottom and his rustic fellows because he expects to “find sport in their intents”. I had similar misgivings about Souvenir: it seems a cruel sport that laughs at the pitiful delusions of such starry-eyed acolytes of the arts as Florence Foster Jenkins, renowned as the worst opera singer ever. 

I need not have been concerned. In this Fortune production – the New Zealand premiere – Florence is far from wretched; the word triumphant springs more readily to mind.  As the play’s narrator, her accompanist Cosmé McMoon says, hers was folly so stupendous you simply have to admire its scale.  Souvenir turns out to be delightful entertainment after all, what might have been a one-joke wonder transformed by director Lara Macgregor into the sensitive exploration of a most unusual relationship, full of comic irony but imbued with deep feeling.

This is a wise approach, as the plot is slender in the extreme. Twenty years after Florence’s death, McMoon is reminiscing about their time together, starting with their very first interview when she tells him she is seeking not merely an accompanist, but a soul mate.  The second act boldly recreates the wild success of Florence’s career climax: the sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, from the mad flamboyance of her Spanish dance to her massacre of Adele’s laughing song. 

My guest, who happens to be my well-travelled mother, assures me that in the Europe she knew in the 30s and 40s, it was by no means an uncommon phenomenon for wealthy deluded women, often American, to squander fortunes hiring concert halls and inflicting dreadful performances on long-suffering friends. (She comments later that it is such a relief having permission to laugh – at those recitals in her youth she had to crawl under the chair.)

What sets Florence apart in Temperley’s script is that she is motivated by naively generous passion for music rather than vanity. Indeed in real life her profits all went to charity.  This enthusiastic warmth is the quality that eventually wins over McMoon, and though he may wince when she proclaims her delight at finding an accompanist “on one’s own level!” the two become genuine friends. 

The rapport between the actors, Angela Johnson and Michael Lee Porter, seems as tangible as that which must have existed between the originals.  With the focus on the delicate subtleties of their relationship, part of the charm of the production comes from the sheer pleasure these two performers clearly have in working together. Macgregor has made full use of the stage, the gleaming grand piano in particular utilised almost as a third actor, and Johnson and Porter both bring a strong and confident physicality to their characterisations.

As Florence – her round cheeks, big eyes and crimped hair making her look like a mature Betty Boop – Angela Johnson is enchanting.  Her exuberance transcends the footlights and enslaves us.  She is wholly credible as the legendary anti-talented but indomitable lady.  Singing unbelievably badly on purpose demands enormous skill, the ‘clown on the tightrope’ effect, and Johnson, herself an accomplished singer, has had to have special training to avoid injuring her voice with those raucous off-key screeches. 

Having played Maria Callas I know how challenging it is to integrate the music of a real person into a play, even in a production supported by recordings of that magnificent voice.  I cannot imagine what a task it must be to recreate the disaster that was Florence.  The extraordinary thing is that listening to Johnson sing is not excruciating, but excruciatingly funny.  The audience simply howls with laughter. Even though we know what to expect, that first ghastly explosion of sound is still gloriously shocking, the pleasure doubled by gleeful anticipation of Cosmé’s appalled reaction. 

Michael Lee Porter is her perfect complement and consort as Cosmé McMoon.  At first all boyish dimpled charm, anxious for a job to pay the rent and impressed by Florence’s lofty vision of her calling, he is instantly transformed by those first awful notes to the incredulous, outraged artist, leaping to his feet, his face contorted in horror, to cling desperately to that glossy grand piano.

Porter’s comic timing is spot-on, and he is certainly funny, but he also arouses sympathy for Cosmé’s desperate attempts to confront Florence with reality without hurting her feelings.  Porter is an excellent musician and his playing very nearly redeems the musical horror that is Florence’s singing.  I love his version of Crazy Rhythm.

The production values, as realised by the Fortune’s experienced team under Lindsay Gordon, are similarly impressive. The action initially takes place in the elegant ballroom of the Ritz Hotel, interpreted by designer Peter King as a harmoniously circular parquet floor, with stately pillars and panelled walls.  In a satisfying coup de theatre, these walls later spin to become huge mirrors, creating the illusion that we the audience are in fact the audience of the great Carnegie Hall.  It beats me how Stephen Kilroy’s ingenious lighting design supports this without blinding us, but somehow it succeeds.

Regular costume designer Maryanne Wright-Smyth, assisted by Zoe Fox, surpasses herself with Florence’s wardrobe of twelve spectacular outfits, some of which are replicas of the originals. Surprisingly most are neither garish nor vulgar; Florence’s love of glamour is frequently revealed in shimmering oyster grey satin with pearls.  The Carnegie performance, however, allows for some astonishing creations, including a stupendous pair of angel wings for Florence’s beloved Ave Maria.

It is Ave Maria though, that is nearly Florence’s downfall, bringing us to the climactic and touching moment when Cosmé’s genuine fondness for his difficult partner is tested.  Ultimately it is his love that gives Florence her true moment: “Sometimes what we hear with our inner ear, that is the truth.”  This brings the audience to its feet in a tribute that is not just for this fine Fortune production, but for Florence’s fabulous fantasy of living the dream. Bravo.


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