Your Place Is Here, from Leading Lady (Day 138)

Sylvester PoliIf you’ve been following the story of Leading Lady post by post, you’ll know that Mae is on the road in a tour of The Daughter of Mother Machree, produced by Sylvester Poli (pictured on the left). We’ve heard about her success and its impact on her family in a previous song, The Drinks Are On Miss Desmond, and experienced the yearning felt by a mother separated from her children in I’ll Be Near. Now Mae gets word that her child is grievously ill – we were thinking of the 1918 influenza epidemic – and she decides that she must return home, which means abandoning the tour. Poli uses this song and the scene preceding it to cajole and browbeat Mae until she agrees to stay. This performance is a composer’s demo of the song, with me doing a sort of Noel Coward imitation:

An actress takes a vow
As sacred as a nun’s:
She swears devotion to her show
As long as her show runs.
A doctor’s oath is Hippocratic,
An actress’s is more dramatic.
Although I mean no pressure,
Let me offer a brief refresher:

The Lord above ordained
Where his creations ought to be
An eagle’s place is in the sky,
A fish’s, in the sea.
The paddock’s for the pony,
The pasture’s for the steer
And when the call is “places,”
Your place is here!

Your child may have the measles
Your dad may be in jail
But you’ll be in your dressing room
Each evening without fail
It’s the first law of the theater
And it couldn’t be more clear:
When the call is “places,”
Your place is here!

Sure as I know the setting sun
Will eventually be followed by the dawn
Sure as I know that rivers flow
I know that the show will go on.
And a show without a star is unthinkable!
You’re indispensable!
Be sensible, my dear!

Your sweetheart may implore you
To stay and be his mate
But though you’ve kissed,
I must insist your tryst will have to wait.
For if you miss an entrance,
The audience will jeer.
So when the call is “places,”
Your place is here!

Sick as a dog?
One foot in the grave?
Just get into your costume
And be brave, my girl, be brave!
Only an amateur is daunted by such things!
If you have to vomit,
You’ll do it in the wings!

Outside might be a hurricane
A blizzard or a flood
Or maybe something biblical,
Like locusts, frogs or blood
You may have dysentery
The plague or beri-beri
Your poodle may have rabies
And so may all your babies
You’ve got a sprain, you’ve got a strain,
You’ve got a pain behind your brain
You may have even lost your voice,
But you’ve no choice, I fear.
When the call is “places,”
To miss it a disgrace is!
To stay in my good graces,
The way is clear.
When the call is “places,”
Your place is here!

This song didn’t last beyond the first iteration of the show. We realized that the outcome of this number – Mae acceding to Poli’s wishes and staying with the show – just never would happen. A mother who’d just received such frightful news would never stand mutely by while her pompous twit of a boss lectured her on theater tradition and etiquette. Still, I kept sniffing around for a place to write a patter song about the theater, and later on I wrote Maggie Fielder’s Laws. Then we cut THAT one. For those of us that work in the business, these notions are perhaps charming, but stray a bit too far from the main dramaturgical path.

Bonus track: Professor Charles Conwell, UArts’ resident swashbuckler, as Sylvester Poli in the very first reading of Leading Lady in 2011. Conwell would be splendid casting for Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady if he was just a little younger, and appeared in three other musicals at UArts: 1776, Follies and Big River.

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