Only The Best, from Leading Lady (Day 128)

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

Mae Desmond and her husband, Frank Fielder, were “icons of Philadelphia theatre,” according to “The A to Z of American Theater,” and I first learned about Mae and Frank from their granddaughter, Mari Kathleen Fielder, who taught theater history at The University of the Arts and had devoted her considerable skills as a scholar to documenting her grandmother’s company. The idea of a musical about an iconic theater couple in Philadelphia captivated me at once, and I enlisted playwright Seth Bauer to help tell their story.

That story begins with an opening number, and this is the first of several I wrote for Leading Lady. This is a sort of “Magic To Do” opening, one designed to introduce the players and the milieu, which in this case is an old-fashioned stock company in Philadelphia a century ago. I was particularly delighted to be able to incorporate words like Shackamaxon and Moyamensing, names of Philly neighborhoods that come from the native American languages spoken by the original inhabitants of this region. The “swellest elocution” lyric is a nod in the direction of my beloved wife, the Speech Diva. This was performed at UArts in the Brind School’s New Play Festival in 2012, with Zack Kononov as Zimmerman, the impresario, and Tom Baust at the piano.

Only the best
That’s what our audience has come to expect
You’re here as a guest
And we intend to treat you right
Only the best
In Philadelphia the critics attest
You’ll find the management has spared no expense
Our costs are immense
It takes a lot to satisfy you ladies and gents

Only the best
From Moyamensing to Society Hill
We can fulfill your most demanding request
Behold the gorgeous costumes and the opulent sets
Behold the charming chorus, stocked with blondes and brunettes
Come and spend the night with us, You’ll have no regrets
Only the best will do!
Only the best for you!

Only the best
Our flair for comedy is second to none
No one can jest
The way our able jesters do
Only the best
We play the classics with an elegant style
We make a specialty of ladies and lords
Swashbuckling swords
The swellest elocution that you’ll hear on the boards

You can request
A melodrama done with consummate skill
You’ll get a thrill when the villain appears
We can do a tragedy and make you feel glum
We can do a minstrel show – we hum and we strum
Welcome to the Orpheum,
We’re glad that you’ve come!
You’ll be impressed, it’s true
Only the best for you!

Behold our charming ingenue
Her heart is pure, her eyes are blue

INGENUE: And what is more, my love is true!

COMPANY: Only the best!
And here’s our handsome juvenile!
Behold his dashing, flashing smile!
A face without a trace of guile!
Only the best!

Our villainous tragedian,
Whose glare is most nefarious.
Our popular comedian,
With a flair for the hilarious.

SOLO: My name is Dan, the utility man,
My gifts are miscellaneous
I have a special knack
For transformations instantaneous

(Costume trick: Dan enters looking like a man, then spins around and, with a cymbal crash, presents himself as a woman)

This saucy lass is our soubrette
A captivating young coquette
ZIM: She hasn’t let me kiss her yet!
(CHORUS: It’s for the best!)
ZIM: And I’m the impresario
The clever chap who runs the show
(CHORUS: He pays our wages, don’t ya know?)
I trust your impressed!
ALL: And here’s our leading lady
Let’s all give her a cheer!
She’s known throughout the city
As a star without peer!
Welcome to the Orpheum!
We’re glad that you’re here!
(SOLO) We’ve got a job to do:

CHORALE (all gather and sing solemnly as a chorus)
If with our play, we reach your heart
Or help one fainting soul to play his part,
Bear life more bravely, make one truth more plain
Surely our labors will not be in vain!

FINAL CHORUS (slower tempo)
Only the best!
From Shackamaxon to the Liberty Bell
People will tell of the swell things we do.
(a tempo) We’ll lift your hearts and stir your wits
With tricks of all sorts
And drive you into laughing fits
With zany retorts
And make you blush with naughty bits
(ZIM SOLO: We know that you’re sports!)
And when the show is through,
You’ll be impressed!
Our theater’s blessed!
We’ll handle with zest
Your every request
‘Cause only the best….
Will do!

One thought on “Only The Best, from Leading Lady (Day 128)

  1. Pingback: Good Show, from Leading Lady (Day 129) | Notes from a SAVI Savant

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