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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: October 27, 2014

The true story of a tone-deaf, would-be diva: “Souvenir” at Portland Stage

Written by: Bob Keyes
Cosme McMoon (Wayne Barker) and Florence Foster Jenkins (Karen Murphy) rehearse for their upcoming recital. Photo by Aaron Flack

Cosme McMoon (Wayne Barker) and Florence Foster Jenkins (Karen Murphy) rehearse for their upcoming recital. Photo by Aaron Flack

The hardest part about Karen Murphy’s latest play is learning how to be bad.

Murphy portrays amateur soprano Florence Foster Jenkins in the Portland Stage comedy “Souvenir.” It tells the story of a tone-deaf, would-be diva who overcomes her vocal inadequacies and makes it to Carnegie Hall.

For Murphy, a trained vocalist, it means playing a singer who wasn’t very good. That’s hard to do, she said, invoking a baseball analogy.

“It’s like asking your first baseman to switch to catcher,” she said. “You are using all different muscles.”

A true story, the play is narrated by Jenkins’ accompanist, Cosme McMoon, played by Wayne Barker. A New York actor, Barker recently moved to Portland.

He tells the story from the piano bench of a supper club in 1964, reflecting on the time in 1932 that Jenkins satisfied a long-held dream and sang from the stage of Carnegie Hall. It’s a story of commitment, passion and an indomitable will to succeed.

That’s the part of the story that Murphy likes to tell.

“She believes in herself. She was passionate about the music, and she was earnest,” Murphy said.

Ron Botting directs the two-person cast.

WHAT: “Souvenir”
WHERE: Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: October 28 through Nov. 16; final preview 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $37 to $47; 774-0465
INFO: portlandstage.org

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