Leading Lady is a new musical by Charles Gilbert (composer and lyricist) and P. Seth Bauer (playwright) based on the life of Mae Desmond, a popular Philadelphia actress and theater manager in her heyday a century ago. Desmond, along with her husband Frank Fielder, ran a stock company called The Mae Desmond Players, a family business that enjoyed considerable success during the early days of the “Roaring Twenties.” The musical depicts the challenges of maintaining a family and a family business during this turbulent, colorful era.
A workshop production of this musical took place in 2013 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where director Bill Fennelly is a member of the Performing Arts faculty. A previous workshop was held as part of the New Play Festival at the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts in February 2012. Dr. Mari Kathleen Fielder, granddaughter of Mae Desmond and former Adjunct Professor of Theater History at the University of the Arts, wrote her doctoral dissertation on her grandmother’s company, and her substantial archives provided the authors with fascinating insights into the life and times of this colorful figure from Philadelphia history. An article about Mae Desmond and Dr. Fielder appeared in the South Philly Review at the time of the February 2012 workshop. Dr. Fielder penned this program note for the February 2012 production, which provides both biographical information and historical context about the life of this remarkable woman.
This video, shot and edited by Kaysie Strickland, captures some memorable moments from that February 2012 workshop: