Review: NRP’s Leading Ladies now at The Alley Theatre by Ray ZuWallach
It would be easy to think that “Leading Ladies,” billed as a cross between “Some Like It Hot” and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” is just another men-in-drag farce. However, Ken Ludwig’s clever handling of his story and characters allows the play to rise above the cliché of guys dressing up as women. We also get a generous helping of the playwright’s pet theme of depicting show-biz folks as vain, erratic, and fallible; theme’s also in “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Set in Pennsylvania in the early 1950s, the action starts with Leo Clark (Garrett Olson) and Jack Gable (Eric Henderson), a couple of down-at-heel Shakespearean actors, languishing on the Moose Lodge circuit, where their hammy overacting turns off an already hostile audience. When they learn that an elderly woman in the town of York has died, the perpetually broke duo decides to impersonate Max and Steve, the missing British nephews to whom she has bequeathed a fortune. Learning that the nephews are really nieces, Maxine and Stephanie, doesn’t deter them. They break out their finest female garb along with lipstick, rouge, and face powder.
Other surprises await the duo: The old lady, Florence (Sheila McCormick), is actually still alive. Her lively niece Meg (Lorna Norgueira) adores Shakespeare and pines for the life of an actor, causing Leo to fall for her. Jack likewise meets his dream girl, Meg’s best friend, Audrey (Victoria Kirichok). Meg is engaged, Audrey has a beau, and both think the two guys are women, adding to the plot’s complications.
Director Jess Wilson mounts a wholly engaging production that sparkles from first moment to last. Her high-octane octet of actors display great timing in both line delivery and in effecting the play’s physical aspects. Olson and Henderson are a study in contrasts. Olson’s Leo is a polished ladies man, all high-toned speech and mannerisms, while his Maxine is a flutey-voiced ,boisterous odd duck. Henderson’s Jack is a practical Brit who hates the idea of masquerading as a woman; his Stephanie is like a gentle breeze wafting about the stage.
The objects of their affections are likewise dissimilar. As Meg, Nogueira is bright and intelligent and engaging while Kirichok’s Audrey is endearingly ditsy. The remaining characters are essentially straight men for the starring quartet’s antics. Steve Doherty’s Duncan Wooley, the snippety, hidebound local minister engaged to Meg, who is immediately suspicious of Leo and Jack, is a classic foil. Alberto Rizzotti parlays the character of the blunt, lusty, inept Doc Myers into some fun wacky bits. As Doc’s son Butch, Jeffrey Ruel is funniest in depicting the young man’s abominably bad acting in the “Twelfth Night” performance (a play within a play.) McCormick’s Florence lends stability and imperiousness to the proceedings.
The visual elements—Max Verg’s set, Elena Murphy’s costumes, Bill Purcell’s hair and wig designs, the Watermans’ lighting—are all of a piece. The scene changes are cleverly accompanied by enjoyable American pop tunes of the early ’50s. This is first-rate staging that makes the most of Ludwig’s genius for farce.
Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig continues at the Alley Theatre, 133 Centre Street, Middleboro April 21,22,28,29 at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on April 23rd . Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 Seniors & Students, Matinee $15.
Performances can be combined with “Dinner and a Show,” a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000. Three course meal including glass of wine for $21.95 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. For more info about NRP please visit us on our website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com or on our FB, Flicker, Twitter, Tumble or Instagram sites. You may also call our virtual box office 866 -244-0448 for reservations. Credit card purchases via EventBrite (through our website) and at the door.