Leading Ladies

28058385_1815423625169046_2907867582156162635_nWho doesn’t love a man in drag?! Whether it’s Milton Berle, Flip Wilson’s Geraldine Jones, Tyler Perry’s Madea, or Robin Williams’s Mrs. Doubtfire – a man in support hose and a wig is funny every single time.

This holds true for the lead characters in Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies as well, currently playing at McKeesport Little Theater. The basic premise of the play involves down-and-out Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it?: Clark – Gable), dressing up as women in an attempt to bilk a (very cranky) dying old woman out of the money she is planning to leave to her long-lost nieces. There’s unexpected romance, laughably bad Shakespeare, crazy costume changes, and more twists than a Chubby Checker retrospective.

First produced in 2004, Leading Ladies is wacky fun, with a wildly improbable plot, serving no other purpose than to make its audience laugh. Inspired and informed by classic comedies which include George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take it with You, and Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, Ludwig celebrates these earlier works by incorporating tried-and-true tropes like the aforementioned cross-dressing, the young-girl-engaged-to-the-wrong-older-man, the requisite message-delivery-mix-up, and the always funny hiding-behind-the-screen ploy. Because he writes these moments with such cleverness, charm, and love for the format, the play really works.

Leading Ladies is set in the 1950s and it embraces that 1950s style. Its language is slightly elevated above the naturalistic. It incorporates elements of both high and low comedy and dictates a specifically elevated rhythm of delivery. (Think Hepburn and Tracy in…anything.) The sets and costumes, too, need that pristine, slightly exaggerated high fashion and feel that is so identifiable with productions of the 1950s.

It takes skill, impeccable technique, and serious experience to pull off this type of stylized production. Sadly, the team at McKeesport Little Theater just wasn’t up to the task, despite their obvious hard work. The actors gave it their all and put all of their energy and commitment into the show. Actresses Erika Krenn (as Meg) and Kaylee Handsberry (as Audrey) show promise and are ones to watch in the future. It’s a tough job programming for a community theater: taking into consideration the goals of the company, the expectations of the audience, and ways to provide opportunities and showcases for the community artists and technicians who give their time to creating the work. Respect. And, while I can see why the leadership of the company picked Leading Ladies, the production just didn’t work for me this time.

Leading Ladies runs at McKeesport Little Theater, located at 1614 Coursin Street, McKeesport, through March 25, 2018. For tickets and information, visit www.mckeesportlittletheater.com.

Categories: Archived Reviews

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