Derek Mehn as Leo/Maxene and Todd Andrew Ball as Jack/Stephanie


Ken Ludwig's LEADING LADIES Are Ravishing at Glendale Centre Theatre

By Don Grigware for BWW Reviews

Playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo as well as Leading Ladies) is one of a dying breed of American farceurs. How many presently exist? In the UK, yes, there are many. Farce is their specialty, but not in the US. So, that given, Leading Ladies is a uniquely special ode to the theatre, to Shakespeare and to that band of traveling actors who make little money but devote their lives to entertain us, and to comedy put forth at a breakneck pace.

Thanks to Ken Ludwig and his Leading Ladies our lives are that much brighter.

Now in an especially exhilarating production at GCT James Castle Stevens skillfully guides a fiercely talented cast through August 16.

Of course, there is so much silliness at play and a sublimely light plot-line that involves two actors dressing up/disguising themselves as women, posing as the long lost nieces of a wealthy dowager, in order to collect an inheritance. The woman, whom they presume dead, hasn't seen them since they were children, so they feel they can carry it all off without a hitch. But, of course, everything that could go wrong does, like two other nieces showing up ... so will the real nieces please stand up! If an ensemble can make all the foolishness fresh and spontaneous, their work is accomplished, and this cast nails it.

They include Derek Mehn and Todd Andrew Ball as Leo/Maxene and Jack/Stephanie, respectively, whose chemistry and comic aplomb are dizzyingly on target from beginning to end; Kelly Hennessey, delightfully fresh and riveting as Meg; Jennifer Tate, adorably innocent and delectably droll as Audrey; Elaine Rose, forceful and cranky as Florence, the old aunt who refuses to lie down and die; Richard Large as the spunky and mischievous Doc; Nicholaus Mizrahi as goofy but likable Butch and James Betteridge appropriately annoying as the greedy, overly self-righteous minister Duncan. Stevens seems to be the perfect director for this kind of piece keeping the pace crisp, bright and rapid-fire at every moment.

Tim Dietlein has designed a functional drawing room set that works nicely in the round, and Angela Wood's costume design is deliciously original particularly the ugly theatrical dresses/costumes and wigs for Maxene and Stephanie.

Ludwig loves to have his actors enact Shakespeare within his plays. It fits so consistently with the quick pace, theatricality and over-the-top flamboyant performances that make farce sparkle. And when it's done improperly, it adds even more fuel to the comic combustion. The more I see Leading Ladies the more I realize that it is one of his very best. Not only funny, it gives a positive nod to falling in love in gender-bending situations, reminiscent of the dazzling film hits Tootsie and Victor/Victoria. Go see it through August 16!

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