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Jim Walton Talks About Souvenir

By Gary Wien

George Street Playhouse is bringing a pair of Broadway veterans to New Brunswick for Souvenir, their latest production that will run from February 27th through March 25th. The play features Liz McCartney (Mamma Mia, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Jim Walton (Merrily We Roll Along, And The World Goes Round) as the society doyenne and aspiring singer Florence Foster Jenkins and her accompanist Cosme. The kicker is that Florence sings really, really badly. We're talking American Idol first week bad, but she's convinced she can do it.

We had a chance to talk with Jim Walton a few weeks before the show opened. Jim is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Franklin Shepard, the lead role in Steven Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along but his credits in musical theatre don't end there. He's done several on and off-Broadway shows in New York City as well as regional theatre across the country. In other words, he knows good singing... so what's it like for a true musical theatre professional to hear really awful singing? Read on...

Tell me about Souvenir. Liz McCartney plays a singer who can't sing very well.
That's correct. Liz McCartney is playing Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1900s in New York City. She was a New York City socialite who inherited money from her father's death and decided that she wanted to sing. It was her lifelong ambition, but she didn't start until she was in her sixties because he wouldn't let her sing. Apparently he didn't like her voice.

She took up singing and was very, very bad at it and was deluded enough not to know how terrible it was. Either that or she was just so into the thrill of singing and the music that she was just lost in it.

It's ironic to do a play like this in the era of American Idol where people see a lot of really awful singers.
Absolutely! People get so caught up in the music or the rhythm and harmonies that they don't know their voice really isn't very good.

How does your character get involved? Does she hire you?
Yes. She needs an accompanist to play for one of her recitals that she's going to do at the Ritz-Carlton where she lives. He goes and interviews for her and she sings for him. She's terrible but he doesn't have the backbone to say you're really lousy. He's also rather enthralled by her lack of awareness and her belief in her self. Her confidence is so supreme and he has his own insecurities. I think that's what is so interesting about the play. It's a human story that she's overly confident with little skill while he has a lot of skill and lacks confidence. In a sense, they're perfectly mated for each other, but that's also the source of the drama.

David Saint (Artistic Director of George Street) has said he loved the play and thought it was hysterically funny. Since both of you have such wonderful experience in musicals, how difficult was it to make it through rehearsals when these awful sounds are coming from Liz? Was it hard to keep a straight face?
Sometimes, it was! Two days ago, I was playing for her and I don't remember what song it was but I turned my face upstage just so I could laugh outright. And it's not always the same with what she does. She'll actually sing a phrase differently but it'll be just as bad as it ever was! It's very funny.

What was it like working with Liz?
Oh, it's wonderful. She is very easy to get on with; she's very funny and works hard. It's just the two of us, so it's very focused. Usually in a show there's at least 6 to 8 people and commonly there's up to 20 people and you're in 2 or 3 rooms rehearsing. This is a very controlled situation.

Are you both on stage the whole time?
I am on stage the whole time. I do not leave the stage once - not once. She leaves a lot. She has costume changes while I wear the same costume. While she's off stage I have monologues. It's a great challenge because it's a lot to manage. It's a big, big part.

I think this is the first time in my career that I've played a part where I've never left the stage.

It seems as though musicals with smaller casts tend to have more of a dramatic feel to them.
Yes, that's a good observation. It's almost like the smaller the show; the focus not only narrows but I think has to go deeper.

So maybe the show becomes a bit less about the music and more about the characters involved?
Yes. Somehow something has to give the audience its money's worth and a dance show with two people would be strange. You could do it and I'm sure it's been done, but it becomes more about the character and their journey. The bigger shows are about size and spectacle.

What was it like working with director Anders Cato?
He's wonderful! The bottom line is that he respects the play and respects the process of transferring it from the page to the stage. It sure makes it easier to go to work every day for me.

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(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
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NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
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Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
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Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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