This month playwright/lyricist, Diane Sampson, and musician/cabaret performer, Lauren Mayer, will unveil what they accomplished during the pandemic. Living Large, their musical about the lives and loves of Marie Dressler, will debut on December 10 and 11 as a reading at the Potrero Stage Theater.
Though Bay Area artists Sampson and Mayer had admired each other’s work, their collaboration was sparked by producer Tim Heitman.
“I was looking for a woman of a certain age, Jewish, local, to write a libretto with a wonderful composer/lyricist,” said Heitman.
“He’s our doula,” Mayer explained.
With Heitman’s encouragement, Sampson and Mayer spent the bumpy months during shelter-in-place orders creating a musical about Marie Dressler, Hollywood’s biggest star in the 1920’s and early 1930’s.
We “discovered the joy of collaborating with someone equally committed to the work,” Sampson said. “We work so well together, it’s hard to remember who did what.”
“I think you wrote this,” Mayer said, sitting at a piano, striking honky-tonk chords, music that was popular in Dressler’s time.
“No, it was you,” Sampson corrected her. “We both edited it, so it’s hard to tell.”
Heitman originally planned to produce a musical about Frances Marion, one of the most renowned American screenwriters of the twentieth century. Sampson and Mayer, however, became intrigued by Dressler.
“Dressler is like us,” Mayer explained. “She was an older woman who, through the course of her life and career, struggled to come into her own and never gave up.”
In an era and medium where young, petite, women were idolized, Dressler parlayed an ungainly appearance into a comic persona, winning acclaim in vaudeville, Broadway, and Hollywood. Along the way she broke with tradition, both in her personal and professional lives; loving who she pleased, standing up for the underdog, and supporting a union for chorus members. Her greatest success came when she was older; Dressler received an Oscar when she was in her 60s.
Sampson and Mayer are over 60. Sampson’s previous musicals include The Tale of Sleeping Cutie, and Oh, Progeny!
“I wrote about what I knew,” said Sampson, a mother of two boys.
Mayer, who has written and performed satiric political songs, musical revues and cabaret acts, is a five-time recipient of the San Francisco Cabaret Gold Award.
A staged reading is a step along the trajectory towards full-scale production. The director and actors are professionals; actors aren’t expected to memorize their lines.
The December performances will be live and virtual. Tickets are available at https://LivingLargeMusical.com/.