The Hippodrome State Theatre leads the scene as one of the first regional theaters to host a virtual show in the Actor’s Equity Association.
With double-breasted suits and short ties, jazz and glamour, “Souvenir” transports the viewers to early 1900’s New York. But in a surprising twist, the musical comedy is intentionally unmusical.
“Souvenir” tells the true story of the socialite soprano Florence Foster Jenkins and her pianist Cosme McMoon. In the show, actress Kelly Atkins replicates Jenkins’s shrill voice and uncanny confidence. Malcolm Gets plays the dapper gentleman Cosme McMoon.
In the first scene, McMoon announces that Jenkins died 20 years ago as he mournfully plays the piano. After his monologue, McMoon relives his memories of their amusing partnership.
Right from her introduction, Jenkins is boisterous and lively. Although she assured McMoon that she possesses perfect pitch, her singing is anything but perfect. The audio is muffled, but as soon as Jenkins screeches, her ear-splitting voice resounds on the speakers.
Atkins sang in Latin, Spanish, Italian and French; She also spoke in German. She wore a silk Duchess satin cobalt-blue dress to compliment her prestige and flamboyance. She also draped herself in furs donated to the theater. Costume designer Stephanie Parks assembled the pieces without sizing her, to limit contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While startling, Jenkins’ harsh voice and Gets’ bewildered and horrified expressions produce quite the comedy. Unknown to her smiling face and blind eye, McMoon deeply frowns and gasps when Jenkins sings.
Despite his occasional annoyance, McMoon develops affection for Jenkins. Their endearing pairing ties the show together.
“They're not two-dimensional characters, they are two people,” Gets said. “There's a lot of heart to it. I think they really love each other in their own way.”
Rather than on stage, because the Actor’s Equity Association said it was unsafe, the actors practiced and pre-recorded the show in their homes with two borrowed cameras, artistic director Stephanie Lynge said. Instead of loud laughter from an audience, the actors only heard a few giggles during performances, including from Lynge.
Even though Zoom lagged during their rehearsals, Gets calculated the time distance and played on the piano two beats ahead of Atkins so the timing was right for her, he said.
When performing, Atkins and Gets both had microphones. Bob Robins, who designed the lights, set them up in their rooms and pinpointed a place for the actors to stand, Lynge said. Additionally, traditional theater workers compiled and edited the scenes into a video.
While the form is similar to a film, the focus was on the actor’s words and costumes, while their backgrounds remained stationary. Their tones were also more dramatic than in movies.
Even though the team could not meet in person or at the theater, they still felt thankful to create art again.
“Especially right now, during the time of the virus, which has been so devastating and very challenging to so many theater artists, I just felt like I had to relish every single day of rehearsal on Zoom and every day of our filmmaking,” Atkins said. “It was a really special experience and something that I will always remember.”
The Hippodrome has partnered with distributors to offer more movies online, according to a press release. They aim to return to live showings later in the summer and begin a new season in late August or September. Although the plans are tentative, the shows must go on, as they say.
The musical comedy “Souvenir” is streaming July 21 through the 26. Tickets can be purchased on the Hippodrome’s website.
Katie Delk is a sophomore with a journalism major and an anthropology minor. For the Avenue, she writes about music, culture and the environment. When she is not writing, she is outside with the trees, reading a fantasy book or listening to Beach House.