Boys will be girls when a pair of traveling Shakespearean thespians impersonate a pair of long-lost sisters in hopes of inheriting a fortune in Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies, now entertainingly revived at Glendale Centre Theatre.
It’s 1958 and down-on-his-luck British Shakespearean actor Leo Clark (Derek Mehn) and his best friend and partner Jack Gable (Todd Andrew Ball) have been touring American Moose and Elks Lodges with their two-man “Best of Shakespeare” show, into which the performers manage to fit in nearly every famous Shakespearean quote in the book.
Unfortunately, since the show is a bust, Clark and Gable need to find a way to put money into their non-existent bank accounts, a possible solution to said dilemma arising when Leo and Jack notice a newspaper headline: “Dying Woman Seeks Loved Ones; Large Fortune At Stake.”
It turns out that a Pennsylvania millionairess named Florence Snider (Elaine Rose), currently on her deathbed, has lost touch with two of her three closest relatives whom she has not seen or heard from since they left for England decades ago as adolescents. Should said duo turn up, they’ll share her $3 million fortune with her niece Meg (Kelly Hennessey).
Leo and Jack soon learn more about the missing siblings from ditzy roller-skating Tastee Bite waitress Audrey (Jennifer Tate), who informs them that the older one, Max, is in the theater, and as for Steve … Well, the poor thing has been deaf and dumb since birth.
Inspiration hits Leo! They will show up on Mrs. Snider’s doorstep and claim to be the long-lost brothers!
Then Audrey drops a bombshell. The two missing relatives are not Mrs. Snider’s nephews; they’re her nieces Maxine and Stephanie.
Fortunately for Leo and Jack, the traveling players never go anywhere without a suitcase full of costumes, women’s included. All they have to do is don these gowns (as male actors did in Shakespeare’s day), then show up on Mrs. Snider’s doorstep, and abracadabra, two-thirds of the fortune will be theirs for the taking!
There is one hitch. Meg’s fiancé, the Reverend Duncan Wooley (James Betteridge), is not at all happy about the impending arrival of the missing nieces, whose share of his bride’s inheritance will prevent him from using the entire $3 million for his so-called “Foundation.” This Maxine and Stephanie have got to be impostors, and Duncan will make it his mission to prove it.
Laughter, surprises, romance, and drag ensue.
Glendale Centre Theatre’s Leading Ladies benefits greatly from its four terrific leads, though director James Castle Stevens’ work here is not up to the standards he set in 2013’s Heaven Can Wait. Clocking in at twenty minutes longer than it has run elsewhere, Stevens’ Leading Ladies could use a snappier pace, particularly in its rather sluggish first act. In addition, some inattention to arena staging results in one character blocking another throughout entire scenes, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for certain folks in the first row whose view of the action appeared compromised if not outright blocked by elements of Tim Dietlein’s set.
Fortunately these negatives are outweighed by Ludwig’s outrageously funny script, one which will have Shakespeare fans delighting in its cross-dressing and “same-sex” love à la Twelfth Night, which just happens to be the amateur theatrical our hero(in)es will be putting on with participation from the locals in Leading Ladies’ madcap finale.
Add to that the absolutely hilarious work being done by Mehn and Ball, particularly once the duo has donned female attire, as well as leading ladies Hennessey, (radiating girl-next-door loveliness and charm) and Tate (a quirky delight on roller skates or off) and you’ve got four lead performances certain to entertain.
Mizrahi plays cute/dumb to engaging effect and Betteridge is effective as the not-so-heavenly Duncan.
Leading Ladies also reunites Rose and Richard Large from January’s Over The River And Into The Woods, though their work here is less sharp and snappy than in their previous collaboration.
Top design marks go as always to costume whiz Angela Wood and her Glendale Costumes for some pitch-perfect period outfits, Shakespearean garb, and some delicious made-to-order “ladies’ wear” for Mehn and Ball. Dietlein’s lighting design is first-rate and amped voices insure that even the most elderly of audience members should be able to follow the action throughout.
Paul Reid is stage manager.
Though not the unqualified success of previous Glendale Centre Theatre comedies Heaven Can Wait, Over The River And Through The Woods, and Squabbles (to name three of GCT’s very best), Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies nonetheless proves a crowd-pleaser all the way up to its sensational plot-synopsizing curtain-call. If only it didn’t take quite so long to get there.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
July 24, 2014