“Hell, I’d even play the maid to be in a show.”
So sings Hattie Walker in FOLLIES on the last night of the Weissman Theatre’s
existence, reprising the number that she had sung many years before.
Playing a maid does seem to be the lowest of all theatrical assignments.
ALLEGRO, BELLS ARE RINGING, CALL ME MADAM, FANNY, GYPSY, LITTLE ME,
MISS LIBERTY, NEW FACES OF 1952 and SONG OF NORWAY all have a wan
listing for “A Maid.” Don’t infer that such grander-sounding titles as
“Chambermaid” (OF THEE I SING), “Housemaid” (JEKYLL & HYDE) or
“Nursemaid” (STREET SCENE) are much better parts.
Florine Callahan in the original production of THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE
couldn’t have been thrilled to play “First Maid.” But how did Claire Wolf feel
playing “Second Maid?” Well, that had to be better than “Third Maid” whom Alice
Craig portrayed. At least the two maids who help Mrs. Pearce get Eliza Doolittle
ready for bed get to sing the countermelody in “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
For that matter, here’s assuming that the actress in MILK AND HONEY who
played “Maid of Honor” found it no great honor, either.
But the maid who’s commanded to clean out the sink, dump the ashes and set
the table doesn’t always have a thankless role – even in THE BOYS FROM
SYRACUSE. The character of Luce has maid duties among many others but gets
no less than a third of a trio in the enervating “Sing for Your Supper,” half of the
amusing “He and She,” most of the very funny “What Can You Do with a Man?”
as well as all of the show-stopping “Oh, Diogenes!” Yes, everybody ought to
have a maid’s role as generous as this one.
Petra is the maid in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, although she’s smarter than Anne,
the newlywed for whom she works. Some, while watching Sondheim’s most
elegant musical, may initially infer that Petra isn’t necessarily intelligent but just
worldly-wise. (When Anne asks her if she’s virgin, she answers “God forbid!”)
Only when we hear Petra sing the show’s eleven-o’clock number “The Miller’s
Son” do we see that she’s indeed the wisest of all the characters we’ve met.
Moliere, who often created servants who were smarter than the people they
served, would have loved Petra.
Kate McGowan in TITANIC hopes to join the profession. In one of Maury
Yeston’s prettiest songs, she sings “I want to be a lady’s maid, a lady’s maid in America” where she believes “the streets are paved with gold.” Many immigrants naively thought the same thing and had their dreams dashed once they got here.
Compared to what happened to Kate, they were luckier than she, for
disillusionment sure beats death.
Some maids are less nice than others, which brings us to Helga in WOMAN OF
THE YEAR. This maid is glad to join in with the others who are glad “It Isn’t
Working” – meaning the all-too-swift marriage between anchorwoman Tess
Harding and cartoonist Sam Craig. In fact, when the couple seems headed for
divorce court, Helga and Tess’ secretary Gerald gleefully sing “I Told You So.”
To use one of Lauren Bacall’s favorite sarcasms, “Nice, nice; very nice.”
Georgina Franklin’s Momma in HALLELUJAH, BABY! was born in the late 19th
century when a black woman was pretty much relegated to domestic service and
nothing else. Her song about how she’s grown accustomed to her work – “Back
in the Kitchen” – was such a quick throwaway that it didn’t even make the
original cast album. However, once daughter Georgina became a star, Momma
did get to sing “I Don’t Know Where She Got It,” a true showstopper that was
greatly responsible for Lillian Hayman’s winning the 1967-68 Tony Award for Best
Featured Actress in a Musical. She had to be more than happy to have played
Hayman wasn’t the only one to land that trophy. Patsy Kelly captured the 1970-
71 Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony for Maid Pauline in the trailblazing
revival of NO, NO, NANETTE. It was the only such prize that she ever took home
in a fifty-seven-year career; in fact, she never even received a single nomination
of any major award in all that time.
You don’t hear much of Kelly on the revival cast album. Still, to hear her bark out
Nanette’s future whereabouts in the first finaletto –“She’s going to visit her
grandmother in Trenton, New Jersey” — is great fun.
And Harvey Fierstein won a Tony as Best ACTOR in a Musical for playing
someone who could at least be described as a part-time, stay-at-home maid.
Remember: Edna Turnblad in HAIRSPRAY takes in laundry.
Jacob in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES could be considered a butler considering his
actual sex, but throughout the show we do get the impression from his
demeanor and costume that he’d much rather be a maid. Hell, he’d even play
the maid if he were ever invited to go downstairs and join the cast of any LA
CAGE AUX FOLLES revue.
In WORKING, Lynn Thigpen got a great eleven o’clock number in “Cleanin’
Women.” Granted, Maggie Holmes isn’t happy with her work; she’s also upset that she’s called by her first name by her employers. As a result, she’ll make darn certain that her daughter will wind up in a much better occupation and be referred to on “a last-name basis.” In WORKING’s stirring first-act finale, Maggie
sings “If I could have been what I could have been, I could have been
something” and “at ten bucks an hour.”
(If that figure doesn’t sound so high, remember that WORKING opened more
than forty years ago. An inflation calculator tells us that $10 then is equivalent to
$39.07 today. As Snoopy sings, “Not bad. Not bad at all.”)
Mrs. Pugh isn’t a great role in ANNIE, but Oliver Warbucks’ secretary is better
known than many maids in musicals — and on a “last-name basis” — because
she’s mentioned in a lyric in “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here.” Grace Farrell tells
Annie “When you wake, ring for Drake. Drake will bring your tray. When you’re
through, Mrs. Pugh comes to take it away.” (Of course, we do have to suspect
that those two characters weren’t named until lyricist Martin Charnin needed
some rhymes in a hurry …)
Giovanna in DO I HEAR A WALTZ? is an Italian, so she has trouble with the
English language. “No understand,” she keeps repeating and, in an endearing
mistake, thinks those items out of which we take drinks are “windows” and not
Giovanna was played by Fleury D’Antonakis, who appeared in one more
Broadway musical and an off-Broadway one, too, before calling it a career in
New York. Actually, when the first press releases went out about the 1965
Laurents-Rodgers-Sondheim musical, Ms. D’Antonakis was billed simply as Fleury
(à la Cher). The show’s powers-that-be convinced her that to avoid confusion
she should add her last name. For the record, her first name – Fleury – was an
assumed one; at birth she was named, believe it or not, Freedom.
As for “Broadway Baby,” Ethel Shutta’s rendition on the original cast album is
exuberant, as if she’s looking forward to her next audition as a kid does to
Christmas; Elaine Stritch’s in FOLLIES IN CONCERT is more leisurely and world-
weary (although she sings “Heck” instead of “Hell”).
How leisurely? Shutta’s take weighs in at 1:51; Stritch’s performance clocks at
3:39 (and that doesn’t include the fourteen seconds of the applause she’s
awarded). Those numbers, though, are deceptive, for Shutta’s rendition was
shaved of fifteen solid lines on the album that has come to be known as FOLLIES
Lynn Ahrens and many others deemed Harry K. Thaw’s murder of Stanford White
as “the crime of the century.” Many of us would say that title belongs to an event that happened fifty-five years later when the producer of the original cast album of FOLLIES truncated many songs and dropped others.
Bless FOLLIES IN CONCERT for making amends and letting us hear every lyric on
the characters’ minds – even the actress who’d play the maid to be in a show.