True friends oughta tell you the bald-faced truth. Imagine you harbored delusions of grandeur — you’d rely on a friend to keep you from making a fool of yourself, right?
A dear friend of mine is co-starring in a production of Souvenir, a two-person play to benefit The Young Hearts. The non-profit was started by sisters of a 13-year-old boy who succumbed to leukemia in 1999. He remains the light of their lives, as they’ve since pumped fundraising dollars in the six-figure range to support leukemia and lymphoma research. A peppy circle of volunteers has widened to embrace hundreds of youths and adult mentors, and other worthy causes.
It’s no wonder, then, that my friend, a high school choral director and mentor to thousands of teens, would be lured like a moth to this noble calling, dust off his vocal cords and attack the piano chords with admirable vigor to play Cosmé McMoon, loyal accompanist to the 1930s-40s high-society diva Florence Foster Jenkins, whom some have called the “worst singer in the world” (or the grandmother of performance artists).
So how can I tell him what I think?
Foster Jenkins’ own friends could have been pulled from the pages of The Emperor’s New Clothes, letting her douse the public in sour sounds, drowning out the laughter. Take a listen to this authentic recording — as if someone had trained their parrot to mimic the minstrel:
Thankfully, the creative team behind Souvenir found an honest-to-good soprano, Harlie Sponaugle, to impersonate Foster Jenkins. Her tearfully funny portrayal of the diva’s ambition and artlessness catches you off-guard, forcing you to rethink the nature of entertainment and of The Entertainer’s Psyche.
But back to my friend. Honestly? Plaudits aren’t enough. This thing we do with our hands, smacking them together, standing and woot-woohing …? What is that? Not enough.
What might work: to lay back at his feet this unspeakable gift called music, which broadcasts rays of inspiration in all directions; to reflect one iota of the tenderness, dedication and finesse with which he tackles every role and lesson in his life.
They say some do, others teach? Uh-unh. He is that rare soul who teaches by doing.