A flamboyant socialite and just as fearless, amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins rose to fame during the 1940s and became known as the Worst Singer in the World.
The story of the squeaky soprano du jour comes to life in the comedic play Glorious!, on stage at the Chemainus Theatre until Oct. 6.
Known as ‘the first lady of the sliding scale’, Jenkins’ vocal skills may have lacked pure talent, but she was uniquely gifted in the way music spoke to her.
Beverley Elliott, an accomplished actress and singer-songwriter in her own right, plays the role of Jenkins in the performance written by Peter Quilter and directed in Chemainus by Ian Farthing.
Elliott described her role as “larger than life” because at Jenkins’ core was an attitude of not caring what people thought and the confidence to pursue what she loved.
“It’s Florence’s heart, that’s what drives her, and she just loves doing what she does,” she said. “She doesn’t believe what she’s doing is bad – I believe in my head that it’s good and want to everyone to do what they want to do; Don’t let the naysayers take you down. It’s really great to tap into that mindset for this six weeks.”
Fans of ABC’s hit series Once Upon a Time will recognize Elliott from her reoccurring role as Granny. Other film credits include Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood thanked her on stage at the Oscars), Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and Santa Claus 2.
Supporting roles in Glorious! include Elliott Loran as Cosme McMoon and Kathryn Kerbes performing three parts as Dorothy, Maria and Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge.
“Right from day one we saw each other and everybody just came really ready to work and enthusiastic so it’s been great,” Elliott said. “The theatre company’s amazing, the community is great…what a beautiful town.”
For Loran, his character is a struggling artist is in a bit of a rut playing background piano at a restaurant when opportunity knocks.
He’s introduced to Jenkins by Dorothy and hilarity ensues during the first rehearsal at her posh apartment.
“It’s definitely a shock and not a pleasant one, but he takes the job,” Loran said. “He begins in a place of cynicism. I believe he may be playing for Florence ironically. And it isn’t until he has the opportunity to see her passion for what it is, and see her effect, her powerful effect on her audience for what it was that he comes around.”
It’s impossible not to be moved by Jenkins’ capacity to hear beauty and perfection where others heard only a cringe-worthy bray. Her charm lies somewhere between Norma Desmond and Lucille Ball.
“She was the Bette Midler of that time even though she didn’t know it, and the world was a different place then,” Elliott adds.
The actor learned the French and Italian arias for the part and taps into her “old lady voice” that she uses when singing to kids, achieving a fake operetta that will have audiences in stitches.
“When I’m learning it and throwing Florence on top of that it’s another layer,” she said, adding how she watched a lot of YouTube videos to really mimic how people spoke in the 1940s.
The three-person stage version of Glorious! showcases a stronger version of the lead role when compared to the film Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep.
Elliott said Jenkins’ story has endured because of the optimism she brought to life.
“The real world is over-rated and it’s more fun to live on a cloud,” she said of her character’s motto.
Tickets can be purchased by visited www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca or by phone (250) 245-9820.