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Criterion Theatre review: Glorious

Glorious, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, to Feb 1. Her name is Nightingale. Jan Nightingale, since you ask. In this Glorious-ly funny production, however, she sings more like a starling crossed with a parrot on pep pills. Well, she is playing Florence Foster Jenkins, the woman dubbed “the worst singer in the world”. That was after she’d appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1944, aged 76, and many another packed house hitherto. She was born into a rich family in Pennsylvania and christened Narcissa Florence Foster. There must have been something narcissistic in her personality, and certainly no room for self-doubt for the deluded, wealthy woman living her dream and somehow believing that the large crowds seeing her perform were in rapture rather than hysterics. Not even the dramatic intervention of a representative of the Music Lovers of America could quite shake her confidence. Ms Nightingale takes on the role with gusto and aplomb, letting rip in a manner that threatens to shatter the chandelier that glitters over the grand piano in centre-stage. Singer and pianist were put to an early test on the opening night when a slight technical hitch required some inspirational ad-libbing that brought a spontaneous round of applause. Rise from the keyboard and take a bow Joe Fallowell, one of a strong support cast.

Under Anne-marie Greene’s direction, the performers make the most of the comic opportunities offered by a play that’s peppered with them. There’s even a funeral scene that reduced the audience to the kind of hysterics that must have rippled around Carnegie Hall when Florence was in full flow. Alan Fenn plays Florence's long-term lover St Clair (pronounced “Sinclair") with debonair aplomb and Kelly Davidson gives a splendid cameo performance as a menacing maid expressing her frustration in bursts of incomprehensible Mexican. Even Foster Jenkins might just have spotted elements of disapproval emanating from the kitchen. Cue Jan Nightingale again. She takes on the lead with the confidence and relish required. And she really has a voice to match her surname, according to the director’s notes in the programme: “I knew I had to cast someone who could sing exceptionally well in order that they could sing badly enough, and she makes an awesome job of this.” Quite. Let’s just hope that her voice is still intact by the end of the week.

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Barbara Goulden adds:

Couldn't agree more with Chris Arnot's review. What a brilliant tour-de-force by the cast of The Criterion and perhaps appreciated most of all by the real singers among Saturday night's audience - some of whom were laughing so much they were in danger of needing resucitation.

Jan Nightingale really is comically sensational in the part of real-life, long-dead, would-be opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins. Only somebody with a truly remarkable voice could hit all those wrong notes with such precision.

I also loved the rest of the cast, the mad Mexican maid played by Kelly Davidson - nobody knew what the hell she was yelling about - then there was Alan Fenn as Florence's suave English boyfriend; her ditzy dog-loving friend (Sara Russell) and eternally patient pianist Joe Fallowell.

And while Jan sings truly terribly - truth is the real Florence was even worse. You can hear an actual recording of her voice on the way out....and believe me it's just as well you're on the way out.

For all that, this is a play definitely worth going in for.

Lorraine Kane adds:

'"You can't put a price tag on living the dream'"....Florence Foster Jenkins, a truly great artist.

When she first sings, the word 'cringe' comes to mind but as she continues on with her adoring partner St Clair and best friend Dorothy, so proudly loyal, you just become enchanted by this wonderfully positive lady who just captures her audience.

We all have that friend who believes they can sing.

She truly is amazingly bad! But so good to watch. Her self image is just so deliriously confident.

What a fabulously funny and feel good performance. St Clair, from Bognor, Florence's English partner of 10 years, is awesome. Cosme, her pianist, has the best American accent and Dorothy taking flight in that dress funny!

As for Maria with her aggressive Spanish - I was in stitches and laughed out loud.

The finale of Florence's performance at Carnegie Hall was just mesmerising.

Simply Glorious!

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