Maggie Fielder’s Laws, from Leading Lady (Day 29)

This portrait of Mae Desmond is from the New York Public Library's Theatre Collection

This portrait of Mae Desmond is from the New York Public LIbrary’s Theatre Collection

Seth Bauer and I have spent the past couple years working on a new musical called Leading Lady, and we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to do two different workshops, the first at UArts in 2012 as part of the Brind School’s New Play Festival and the second at Drexel University, where our director, Bill Fennelly is a faculty member, in 2013. Over the course of those workshops, we’ve written enough material to fill two or three musicals, as we search for the right story to tell about Mae Desmond, the remarkable actress and theater manager whose Mae Desmond Players was a popular stock company in Philadelphia 100 years ago. Today’s song got discarded after the 2012 workshop, but I woke up thinking about it, and decided it was too good to languish forever in obscurity. It’s sung by Maggie Fielder (played by Chanel Karimkhani), mother of Frank Fielder, Mae’s husband; Maggie owns a boarding house for actors and runs it like a tight ship. It’s an affectionate tribute to actors and their wayward ways: “There’s no folk like show folk!” is its refrain, and having spent my life around them, I speak the truth. More about Mae Desmond after the lyric…

A respectable establishment
Is what I’m running here
And I’ll stand for no shenanigans –
Do I make myself quite clear?
So if you’re inclined to be unrefined,
To be rowdy, rude or loud,
You can take your patronage elsewhere!
I don’t need your kind of crowd.

There’s no folk like show folk!
I love ‘em like they’re kin,
But goodness sake,
The messes that they make!
I declare, they’ll do me in!
You’ll never see my temper
Unless you give me cause,
But you might get bit
If you don’t submit
To Maggie Fielder’s laws!

Now the rent is due on Monday,
And it must be paid in cash.
I don’t pick up your laundry, dear,
And I don’t take out your trash.
There’s to be no smoking in the rooms,
No cigars or cigarettes
No canaries, goldfish, dogs or cats
Or any other pets!

There’s to be no feet on the furniture
And no singing in the halls.
No monkey-shines in the bedroom, dear –
We can hear you through the walls!
There’s no borrowing of my precious things
To use onstage as “props”
And no guns nor swords, whether real or not –
I swear, I’ll call the cops!

There’s no folk like show folk!
I think they’re truly grand.
But bless their hearts, they’ve got a special knack
For getting out of hand.
Their aptitude for mayhem
Is among their greatest flaws
But there’s order here
‘Cause we all adhere
To Maggie Fielder’s laws!

You should get to know your neighbors.
They’re quite a motley crew.
Sometimes we appear like a circus here,
Or worse, I fear, like a zoo!
An acrobat walks the clothesline,
A comedian falls down stairs,
And the basement’s packed
With a vaudeville act
Whose specialty is juggling chairs!

You see this gent? He owes me rent.
I ought to charge you double!
He’s a crazy clown from Allentown
Who can be no end of trouble.
A contortionist from South Bend
Who life is a twisted tale
And a rogue named Bert
Who is quite the flirt
And has spent some time in jail.

There’s an orator from Oregon
With a voice that’s rich and plummy,
And a juvenile with a dazzling smile
Who can be a bit too chummy.
A saucy lass from Worcester, Mass
Who’s fond of a dram of rummy
And last on the list,
A ventriloquist
And his roommate, who’s a dummy!

There’s no folk like show folk!

I love them, ‘deed I do!

Just take her son, he’s definitely one!

And his wife is show folk too!

We love her like a mother
No other gets applause. (all clap)
And we get on fine
‘Cause we toe the line.

Only knaves and fools
Disobey my rules!

We’re a family here
And we all adhere
To Maggie Fielder’s laws!!

If you were actually following along with the lyric, you noticed that there’s a couple of stanzas that didn’t make it into the performance. The “list song” is a feature of many musicals, and I fell into a frenzy of list-making in the middle section, cataloging the diverse show-biz types who might populate a boarding house like Maggie’s.

I’m particularly proud of the stanza in the lyric that ends with the ventriloquist and his dummy. You may be thinking, did I miss hearing that in the song? Not to worry, it had been cut by the time we got to the performance where this clip was recorded. It’s a textbook example of a lyric that builds to a punch-line. The sequence of rhymes “plummy/chummy/rummy” is playful and euphonious, and the word “ventriloquist,” when sung with a ritard and a fermata, sets up a marvelous sense of expectation which the final line pays off. I feel like my awareness of that kind of technical finesse has made me a better lyricist and a better songwriter as the years have passed. A song like this needs a singer who can support the writing by delivering nuanced specifics phrase by phrase. And some clever staging wouldn’t hurt, either! Like with the doors in “Gentleman’s Guide?” Yes, please!

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve provided biographical information on Mae Desmond and on the late Dr. Mari Kathleen Fielder, my colleague at UArts and Mae’s granddaughter. The career of Mae Desmond and the colorful world of professional stock in the early years of the twentieth century is the subject of Dr. Fielder’s doctoral dissertation, a hefty tome that provided endless inspiration for Seth and me. It’s too juicy a story to give up on, and I’m sure we’ll get back to it when the time is right!

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

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