Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Praise of the Sidekick

The last day or so, I've been thinking about a coincidence. The same weekend during which I was invited to perform one of the most famous sidekick roles in American Musical Theatre, Beatrice Arthur died. As I previously wrote, before Arthur was a TV star, she originated memorable roles in two iconic musicals, Fiddler on the Roof and Mame. In the latter, she won the Tony Award, and created what may be the finest sidekick ever to show up on Broadway.

The sidekick has a glorious history in the American Musical Theatre, and I've been lucky enough to play a couple. At Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, for example, I played sidekick "Jeff" to leading man "Tommy" in Brigadoon, one of the chestnuts of the canon. (In those older shows, the leading man rarely had any laughs, so the sidekick got them.) I have a deep respect for the sidekick, and Bea Arthur's performance as Vera Charles in Mame was one of the true greats.

I think the mark of a great sidekick role comes during the moments when both the leading player and the best friend (the sidekick seems always to be a BFF) are onstage and interacting together. The clip below proves the point. During one of the Tony Award shows which Angela Lansbury hosted, she reunited with Bea Arthur to recreate their showstopping duet from Mame.

Tonight, in fact just a few moments ago, the lights of Broadway's marquees were dimmed for a minute, to commemorate Beatrice Arthur. That honor is reserved for those who have made a distinct, lasting contribution to the American Theatre. In Arthur's case, that contribution included the creation of one of the most memorable sidekicks ever: