For days the airwaves have been full of year and century in review perspectives. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m practically pining for some of those American Idol misfits. I’m tired of Tiger’s trysts, Blogojevich’s banter and Sanford’s shenanigans. I miss the good old days, when William Hung sang She Bangs, when Sanjaya Malakar sported a mohawk, when Nicole Tieri gave us “scooter girl.”
I could hold out for the premiere of American Idol’s ninth season, coming to Fox television Jan. 12th and 13th, but I just can’t wait that long to get my idol fix. Instead, I’ll be enjoying opening night of Phoenix Theatre’s production of Glorious, a musical about a “wanna-be” idol from a bygone era whose self-certainty might rival that of Adam Lambert, runner up for American Idol’s eighth season.
Glorious recounts the musical misadventures of wealthy American widow and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who lived from 1868 to 1944. It’ll be a refreshing change from media too mesmerized by the pseudo-celebrities of our own day and age, whose only claim to fame is fame. After speaking with Glorious cast member Toby Yatso, who plays Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon, I expect to discover something infinitely more complex in Jenkins than in the subjects of so many of our modern day tell-alls.
Yatso, by the way, was recently honored with a 2008-2009 AriZoni Award for best principal actor in a musical with a contracted theater for his portrayal of Leo Bloom in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Producers. I don’t yet have a full roster of the cast for Glorious, but knowing Phoenix Theatre, there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch. If I recorded here all the accolades and awards they’ve received through the years, you’d be reading well into 2011. (It’s enough for me to know that neither Carrie Prejean nor Kanye West will be anywhere in sight on opening night.)
If you attended the late night version of Phoenix Theatre’s production of The 35th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (sponsored by Echo Magazine), you know that a naughty word or two can sometimes slip into one of their productions. (In all fairness, however, they make it well known when profanity might be paramount.) Yet Glorious, quips Yatso, is almost annoyingly devoid of innuendo.
The good news, of course, is that Glorious is appropriate for audiences of all ages. Imagine the conversations that might result from three generations in one family seeing the show together. The piece is full of World War II references—and I can’t imagine a better bridge for older generations sharing reflections with younger ones who might otherwise never discuss this period in our nation’s history.
Yatso notes that although Glorious is set in the 1940s, “the story is so current.” Like today’s “reality show culture,” Glorious makes us wonder what it really takes to be a star. Is it talent? Is it chutzpah? Does it really matter? In the absence of talent, does something else give a person star quality—and is that okay? Apparently Jenkins was devoid of talent but drowning in ego. How then, you might wonder, does she make it all the way to Carnegie Hall?
Ours is a culture, reflects Yatso, that can’t look away from a human train wreck. We know it’s wrong, but something compels us nonetheless. Candidates for a modern day train wreck award might include Kate and Jon Gosselin, Nadya Suleman, or Richard and Mayumi Heene. (The fact that you may not recognize these folks without their media monikers is further proof of their depersonalization as they lay on our tracks.) “Jenkins,” says Yatso, “is one of these people but in the 30s and 40s.”
Still, Yatso’s admiration for Jenkins seems strong. He describes her as a philanthropist, influential in New York society circles, who did about as many things as a woman could do during that era. “She was just such a robust woman,” he says. The complexity of her character, and Yatso’s enthusiasm for it, leave me genuinely intrigued. A show like this—so off our everyday radar yet so steeped in the issues of our day—doesn’t come around that often.
It sounds like a glorious way to ring in the New Year…
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