NY Public Library for the Performing Arts Archivist Diana Bertolini Uncovers Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop
BroadwayWorld.com continues our exclusive content series, in collaboration with The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which delves into the library's unparalleled archives, and resources. Below, check out a piece by Diana Bertolini (Processing Archivist for the Archives Unit at The New York Public Library) on Dorothy Loudon and the Model of Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop:
The archival collections of America's most important actors, playwrights, composers, lyricists, directors, or publicists held in the Billy Rose Theatre Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts are generally rich in paper materials, such as letters, photographs, scripts, programs, and other documents. The collections also include artifacts, such as awards statuettes, costume pieces, opening night gifts, or makeup compacts. But sometimes, we hit the artifact jackpot, as I did while processing the Dorothy Loudon Collection.
The Dorothy Loudon Collection, a large part of which is available online, has wonderful paper materials, not to mention a slew of rare audio recordings. There are also several boxes of artifacts -- including a teddy bear dressed as Loudon in her most famous role, Miss Hannigan in Annie -- but my favorite artifact from the Loudon Collection is the miniature model of Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop. This highly detailed model was made by the crew of Sweeney Todd, and given to Loudon when she was playing Mrs. Lovett.
This item is just plain cool, but it's also significant for other reasons. It's not every actress that gets a thoughtful, labor-intensive tribute from her crew. This gift indicates that Loudon must have been a friendly and generous colleague to the crew. The fact that she was willing to take a replacement role at that stage of her career is remarkable. After decades of singing in nightclubs, appearing on television, and getting great reviews for her performances in flop shows on Broadway, Loudon finally hit it big with Annie in 1977. She won the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, and became a star. She followed that up with a lead role in another big new musical, Ballroom (1979), scored again, and got a Tony nomination.
Loudon's next job was replacing the actress who had beaten her in the 1979 Tony race: Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd. This might seem like an unusual move for Loudon. Taking a replacement role at the pinnacle of your career is something many other actresses wouldn't have even considered. However highly she thought of the show, Loudon couldn't have known how the stature of Sweeney Todd and its composer, Stephen Sondheim, would grow over time and ultimately contribute to Loudon's own legacy. Or perhaps she just knew it was a great part in a great show, whether she was originating it or not.
Despite the shadow of Lansbury's brilliant, legendary, and Tony-winning performance, Loudon got great reviews herself when she took over as Mrs. Lovett. She may have been a replacement, but she was also a star, and more importantly, an original. She made the role her own, expressing Mrs. Lovett's emotional instability in the very timbre of her voice, and earned the respect and affection of her cast and crew. This fantastic miniature model of Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop will tell us as much about Loudon as her letters and scrapbooks. And it proves that it's possible to rise to stardom but always stay down to earth.
Photo Credit: The New York Public Library