This week, actress Patti Perkins has the unenviable task of taking over the yeasty role created by Kathleen Freeman — who died Aug. 23 — in Broadway's The Full Monty. Perkins has been an understudy for the part of Jeanette Burmeister, the much-married, jaded but encouraging pianist to the group of amateur male-strippers in the hit musical. Freeman, 82, died of lung cancer at 12:45 PM Aug. 23, just five days after her last performance in the show. She completed two performances Saturday Aug. 18.
Jane Connell, who appeared in Broadway's Mame, Lend Me a Tenor, Me and My Girl and Crazy For You, will permanently take the role of Jeanette Aug. 25. Connell stepped into the role earlier this summer when Freeman was on vacation.
Perkins previously appeared on Broadway in All Over Town and Shakespeare's Cabaret, Off Broadway in Tuscaloosa's Calling Me, Randy Newman's Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong and Fashion and in many regional theatres.
Marquees at Shubert and Jujamcyn theatres on Broadway will dim briefly at 8 PM Aug. 24 in honor of Freeman. Jack O'Brien, director of TheFull Monty, made this statement about the loss of Freeman: "She walked into our rehearsal hall...and lit up the room and the subsequent production of The Full Monty. She did nothing in her life more complicated than make everyone happy every time she opened her mouth.She was the perfect definition of the consummate pro, and she played the last year of her life to full houses and standing ovations. It seems like an appropriate curtain."
* In tribute to Kathleen Freeman, Theater Talk, the New York based theatre chat show, will re-air its interview with the character actress Aug. 24 at midnight on Channel 13/WNET.
Freeman, a character actress whose face is known to TV viewers and moviegoers, was Tony Award-nominated for The Full Monty. She had battled lung cancer. The showbiz vet appeared in 10 Jerry Lewis pictures. The role of Jeanette is not in the film on which the musical is based. Kaye Ballard plays the part on the road. In the show, Jeanette promotes and encourages the men and sings the memorable, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number."
The whiskey-voiced, big-smile actress, a Chicago native, directed, composed and performed for The Circle and Players Ring Theatre in Los Angeles and appeared in more than 100 films and hundreds of TV shows. She was the memorable diction teacher, Phoebe Dinsmore, in the film, "Singin' in the Rain." Other movie appearances include "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Blues Brothers 2000," "The Blues Brothers," "Shrek" (the voice of Old Woman). She was series regular Flo Shafer on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
On national tour, Freeman appeared in Deathtrap, Annie (as Miss Hannigan) and Woman of the Year with Lauren Bacall.
As a senior, Freeman won a Theatre World Award this year for making her Broadway debut. "My heart is very deeply full for your generosity and your inclusion for this," she said when accepting the award, which usually goes out to younger performers.
"Every year I'm doing something," she told Playbill reporter Harry Haun. "I've been in the theatre forever." Haun reported that Ms. Freeman was almost three when she first hit the boards with her vaudeville-performer parents. Vaudeville was petering out and giving way to movies, radio and other forms, but the family "kept right on going, which was typical, and finally made our strange way to Los Angeles," she said.
Her mother hoped she would be a serious musician. She studied music, but got the acting bug at UCLA. "A terrible thing happened," she said. "I came on stage and opened my mouth and got a laugh, and the whole thing was over."
Acting was her future.
Freeman is survived by many friends including longtime and best friend Helen Ramsey. Memorial services are being planned in Los Angeles and New York.