Utah Festival Opera season opens with impressive ‘Souvenir’

Veteran performers Joy Hermalyn (left) and Gerald Steichen share the stage in the triumphant Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre production of 'Souvenir' now playing at the Utah Theatre on Center Street.

LOGAN – The 2021 season of the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre kicked off with a triumph on Wednesday evening.

“Souvenir” is an obscure little show that no one in the audience had heard of previously, much less seen. But the comedy penned by Stephen Temperley proved to be such a laugh riot that it sparked a standing ovation from the sizable opening night crowd at the Utah Theatre.

That thunderous applause was inspired by the priceless talents of the show’s stars: Gerald Steichen and Joy Hermalyn.

Steichen is a keyboard artist and a gifted actor who divided his time on stage between delivering dryly sarcastic explanatory monologues to the audience and banging out classical and jazz era music on the theater’s impressive baby grand piano.

Ms. Hermalyn is an equally talented mezzo-soprano who as drawn praise from The New York Times as an opera vocalist who can do slapstick comedy.

Although “Souvenir” isn’t billed as a musical, Ms. Hermalyn nevertheless bravely spends the evening hilariously murdering the music of Mozart, Verdi, Brahms and other composers.

Proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction, “Souvenir” celebrates the improbable fame of real-life New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, which was based on memorably off-key recitals she performed in the 1930s and 1940s, including a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.

Ms. Hermalyn plays the tone-deaf operatic enthusiast while Steichen portrays Cosmé McMoon, her reluctant accompanist. They are the entire cast of “Souvenir” and they didn’t need any on-stage help to bring down the house.

Behind the scenes, however, the festival opera has its usual deep pools of talent waiting in the wings.

“Souvenir” is skillfully directed by UFOMT veteran Dorothy Danner.

The simple but evocative set by Anne Benson is enhanced by lighting and projection effects created by Chris Wood.

Finally, hats off to costume designer Jennifer Sheshko Wood for dressing Ms. Hermalyn in a series of amusingly bizarre outfits during the show’s climatic recreation of the Carnegie Hall concert.

Evening performances of “Souvenir” will continue at the Utah Theatre on July 12, 15, 19 22 and 30. A matinee performance is also slated for July 28.

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