Where the stage has been dark, light is emerging.
Since the mid-March closing of “Grease,” the main stage at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts remained closed at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization has found ways to persevere in the meantime—launching a well-attended “Sip & Sing Supper Club” in its Rhapsody Ballroom and engaging fans in throwback activities on social media, among other creative endeavors.
Now, it’s time to hit the big stage yet again.
“Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins” débuted at Riverside on Wednesday. It will run Wednesdays to Sundays through Nov. 8.
“The journey to this point has been all about being dynamic, taking things one day at a time, thinking outside the box and being responsible,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside and director of “Souvenir.” “We’re going to be the first theater in the D.C. metro region to open our doors and we want to do the absolute best we can. We want to prove to our audiences and fans that we can bring back live theater safely.”
To comply with state mandates and prioritize guests’ well-being, Riverside regulars will notice some changes. Notably, capacity will be reduced, tables will be spaced at least 6 feet apart and additional precautions will be taken. Masks will be required at all times in the venue, a temperature check will be conducted prior to admittance and, to minimize contact, all ticket sales must be completed prior to arrival. A full list of the latest “know before you go” guidelines is available at riversidedt.com.
Additionally, to somewhat make up for capacity restrictions, a Saturday matinee show has been added. Tickets for all performances will be show-only, meaning it will not include food or beverages. Those looking to enjoy a beverage or light-fare pre-show at Riverside may do so—at menu pricing—across the hall from the theater space.
“We had great success with our ‘Sip & Sing’ experience and we saw the comments pour in on how well we executed everything,” said A’Hearn. “We’re ready to show a wider audience that we can do this and are doing this.”
“Souvenir” is a two-person play-meets-musical, zoomed in on the true-life story of Jenkins, a socialite that was born in 1868 and graced our Earth for nearly 80 years. Jenkins’ story is one of flamboyance and hilariously bad singing.
Throughout Jenkins’ life, she would perform at the Ritz–Carlton in New York City to large, laughing crowds who reveled at her “singing.” Through it all, Jenkins’ remains confident. The story is told through the lens of Jenkins’ accompanist, Cosmé McMoon.
For Riverside’s version, Andrea Kahane will star as Jenkins and Carson Eubank will join her as McMoon.
“There is certainly a little bit of everything with this one,” said Kahane, who has also been in Riverside’s productions of “Mamma Mia,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Phantom,” among others. “There are many funny and endearing moments and, with the two of us onstage, the camaraderie we have developed is so pure. The bottom line is that [Jenkins] never gives up and she is happy doing what she was born to do.”
The seamless chemistry between Kahane and Eubank has evolved over time. Among their work together in times past, Eubank was Kahane’s music director for “Mamma Mia.” While Eubank has been working behind the scenes at Riverside quite a bit, “Souvenir” marks the first time that he’s been center stage in years.
“When Patrick called me about ‘Souvenir,’ it was just a perfect storm,” said Eubank. “It had been a little while since I was onstage, but I had actually been wanting to get back out there.”
“I had only heard rumors that Carson acted throughout high school and college,” added A’Hearn. “He was someone I knew only and strictly as a music person ... to see his talent and personality shine through has been truly awesome.”
The “Souvenir” story tastefully unfolds on a simplistic set, clad with a gleaming grand piano and at times mimicking the 1930s as well as the 1960s. The scenery spans a Ritz–Carlton suite, a supper club and beautifully culminates in a Carnegie Hall moment.
“Souvenir” scenery aside, everyone involved with the production is genuinely thrilled and emotional to be doing what they love again.
“I don’t even know if I can find the words to express how I feel,” said Kahane. “This has given me a lot of hope. For a few months, it was hard to even imagine that it could happen. But here we are.”
“I do feel very fortunate,” added Eubank. “I know many of my friends and so many people are struggling in this industry right now ... they’re not working and aren’t able to do what they love.”
With the stage safely set, Riverside is officially ready to welcome and entertain the region once more.
“I want people to walk away from this feeling energized just like I have,” said A’Hearn. “People have gone so long throughout all of this. It’s time for a good laugh, to wipe away a few tears and feel secure about seeing live theater. And, it’s important to add, that we need our patrons now more than ever. Now is the time to come out and support us.”
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