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Most of the singing, of course, is way off key. We're talking, after all, about Florence Foster Jenkins, the New York socialite who realized a lifelong dream to sing before thousands at at Carnegie Hall -- a 1944 concert that will live in infamy, mostly because Jenkins couldn't hit her pitches.

Soprano Christine Donahue is such a superb singer that she can make it look easy to not hit those notes -- no doubt one of the hardest things a real singer can do -- in Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Temperley, which opened Friday night at Little Rock's Studio Theatre. (The benefit for Opera in the Rock also kicks off the adolescent opera company's 2018-19 season.)

Jenkins is seen through the eyes of Cosme McMoon, done to a very fine turn by Timothy Smith, who actually does sing on key as a cranky nightclub performer recalling the "glory" days as Jenkins' accompanist and recital partner.

This is one of the funniest versions of Jenkins' story (including the movie version that starred Meryl Streep ), but Temperley's script has touches of poignancy that elevate it beyond mere parody or farce.

Donahue plays Jenkins' intensity and almost rhapsodic cluelessness to perfection, and even gives us a chance at the end to hear Jenkins as she heard herself. And if Smith's performance had nothing else to recommend it -- and there is plenty to recommend -- his facial expressions alone would be worth the price of admission.

Ken Futterer's set is simple but effective -- a poofy three-lobed sofa, a grand piano, a radio/record player (on which plays Jenkins' actual recording of the Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute) and a folding screen behind which Donahue makes her many costume changes.

Donahue and Smith repeat their performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the theater, 320 W. Seventh St. Ticket information is available online at centralarkansastickets.com or oitr.org.

Metro on 08/18/2018

Print Headline: THEATER REVIEW: Singing a joy even off key in 'Souvenir'

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