THE MOST UNLIKELY STAR is inspired by the amazing life of Marie Dressler, a vaudeville phenomenon and award-winning movie star in the late 19thand early 20th centuries. Though little-known today, her roller-coaster life rivaled that of the most compelling soap opera, while shining a revealing spotlight on the repressive times in which she lived.
The first and final scenes of THE MOST UNLIKELY STAR take place in 1934 at a birthday bash for Marie hosted by Louis B. Mayer, MGM Studios head. In scene 2, we travel back to 1881. 14-year-old runaway Leila Koerber auditions for a two-bit stock company. She’s hired and given a new name -- Marie Dressler. Hoping to play serious parts, she’s told her plain features and ungainly presence will limit her to comedy.
Subsequent Act I scenes trace Marie’s sequential successes. Making the proverbial lemonade out of lemons, she parlays her comic persona all the way to Broadway, garnering superlative reviews. Gradually, we meet other important characters: Mamie Steele, Marie’s housekeeper, who becomes her trusted confidante, astrologer Nella Webb, and novice reporter Frances Marion, whose job Marie saves in an early scene. We later meet promoter Jim Dalton, a mysterious suitor whom Marie marries.
Setbacks appear when Marie defies cultural expectations. Producers find her requests and demands too assertive for a woman, and she quarrels with them. Angered, she stops performing altogether in 1917-1918 and spends her time entertaining American troops and raising money for the war effort. She also establishes a chorus members’ union, which causes her to be blackballed by Broadway producers. By act’s end, bad investments and no work leave Marie penniless. Further, she discovers Jim never divorced his first wife; in the midst of his desperate apologies, he collapses and dies.
Act II follows Marie’s journey from penury to movie star. Mamie and Nella convince her to relocate to Hollywood, where Frances Marion, now a successful screenwriter, creates roles for her, including, at last, serious ones. Marie becomes a well-beloved major star. She also begins a secret affair with Claire Du Brey, a young actress, fueling long-standing rumors she prefers women. Happier than ever, she is nonetheless wounded when Will Rogers asks permission to crown her “Most Beautiful Woman” at a gala so everyone can have a good laugh. Years of being called unattractive have taken their toll.
Marie is elated when, in 1931, she receives a Best Actress Oscar for “Min and Bill, playing a serious role. Basking in her triumph, she dismisses frequent stomach pains, but Louis’ doctor examines her, and he learns she has terminal cancer. Louis informs Claire, Mamie, Frances and Nella, and the devastated group agrees not to tell Marie so she can continue enjoying life for as long as possible.
Sadly, her insecurities re-emerge when her lover Claire attempts to restart her own career. Marie accuses her of being in the relationship to use Marie’s connections. Claire objects and Marie kicks her out, rationalizing she’s better off alone.
The final scene revisits the birthday party that opened the show, an event being broadcast throughout America. Believing she’s unaware of her fate, her friends maintain cheerful facades and are shocked when Marie says she knows it’s her last birthday. They listen tearfully as she goes to the mic. Ever the consummate actress, she thanks “everyone in the world,” and promises they’ll be seeing much more of her in the years to come.
1. “The Greatest Star of All” – company
2. “Merrie Villagers” – Ernst, young Marie, ensemble
3. “Before & After” – Young Marie
4. “Reviews” – Reporters
5. “Bump, Bump, Bump” – Young Marie/Marie, ensemble
6. “Reviews Part 2” - Reporters
7. “If They Say No” – Marie
8. “C’mon Marie” – Jim
9. “Perspectives” – Jim, Marie, Frances, Mamie, Jerry, Nella, Producers, Party guests
10. “Playing the Game” – Frances
11. “The Powers That Were” – Dorothy, Louisa, Pearl, Claire DuBrey, Marie
12. “Ones We Left Behind” – Marie, soldier, hospital patients and nurses
13. “All in the Stars” – Nella, Accolytes
14. “Better Days Ahead” – Mamie
15. “Welcome to Hollywood” – Louis B., Polly Moran, Director, Starlets, Crew, Claire
16. “Heaven With You” – Marie, Claire
17. “Too Much Marie” – Claire, Mamie, Frances
18. “A Good Time Was Had By All” – Marie
19. “Interrupted/Not Finished Yet” – Fan Club
20. “What Good Would It Do?” – Louis B., Claire, Frances, Nella, Mamie
21. “Marie Will Be All Right” – Marie
22. “The Greatest Star of All, reprise” - Company
Young Marie Dressler: 14-20 Audacious and talented with a sad history
Bright powerful mezzo/belter
Marie Dressler: 21-64 Confident but vulnerable – the focus of the show
Mezzo/belter with slightly lower range
Frances Marion: 19-45 Marie’s close friend, later a successful screenwriter
Mamie Steele Cox: 25-55 Marie’s maid and close confidante
Nella Webb: 32-64 Marie’s astrologer and friend
Jim Dalton: 35-45 Marie’s husband, both devoted and duplicitous
Baritone/tenor leading man
Claire Du Brey: 20-35 Marie’s younger lover, an actress herself
Louis B. Mayer: 40-50 Head of MGM studios, Marie’s Hollywood boss
Jerry Cox: 30-60 Mamie’s husband who also works for Marie
Ensemble Roles: (all vocal ranges)
Will Rogers: 50ish
Audition Director: 45ish
Stage Manager: 35ish
Party guests, Reporters: Various ages
Soldiers, Nurses, Patients: Various ages
Marie’s Fan Club members: 40-75