Another big number from Leading Lady, this one opened the second act in all but the most recent version of the show. The main “Mae Dear” tune is another Kenneth Burton creation, written (like Land of Love) for the revue Whispers of 1924, but Seth and I had the notion of trying to craft a number that juxtaposed a performance onstage with the activity going on backstage. Mae’s relationship with the local merchants is described in Mari Fielder’s historical note, and it was her custom to address the audience directly from the stage, often using a script written in rhymed couplets, as she does at the end of this number.
The track I’ve posted is from the 2012 production at the UArts New Play Workshop, with Shannon Remley, Brian Black and a cast of students from the Musical Theater Program and pianist Tom Baust.
This song from Leading Lady was heard in several different places in different drafts of the show. In each case, though, it served to show Mae facing the most difficult of choices. After a performance of The Daughter of Mother Machree, the show in which she plays a starring role, Mae gets news that her young son has fallen victim to influenza, which became a deadly epidemic in certain cities in American in 1918.
If 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:
Yesterday I posted the first opening number I wrote for Leading Lady, Only The Best. Eventually, though, I hit on a way to open the show that introduces the ensemble and the milieu more effectively without all the “we’re going to do a show for you” fol-de-rol. It’s called “Good Show!” and you’ll hear David Schwartz as Zimmermann kicking it off, with Owen Robbins at the piano. This comes from the 2013 workshop, and the ensemble is comprised largely of Bill Fennelly’s students from Drexel University.
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…