Never underestimate the comedic potential of men in dresses. The leading men of Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies play the “leading ladies.” in the current N.C. State University Theatre production of this 2004 farce, set Ludwig’s hometown of York, PA, in the 1950s and directed by director of University Theatre John C. McIlwee.
Leo (Alex Smith) and Jack (Steffen Schilstra) are down-and-out would-be Shakespearean actors from England who learn of an opportunity to strike it rich by impersonating Max and Steve, the long-lost heirs of the reputedly dying (and rich) Miss Florence Snider (Mia Self). Playing the parts of “Max” and “Steve” — and thereby cashing in on a million dollars each — would be a piece-of-cake, except Jack and Leo discover that Florence’s missing heirs are nieces rather than nephews, and Leo must play “Maxine,” while Jack assumes the role of “Stephanie.”
Florence’s third niece, Meg (Natalie Sherwood), is engaged to marry Duncan (Patrick Seebold), a not-so-likeable preacher. Meg’s friend Audrey (Mackie Raymond) is being courted by Butch (Matthew Tucker), who is the son of Doc (Peter Lalush), the inept physician attending Florence.
The cast is rounded out by two members of the Moose Lodge in neighboring Shrewsbury, PA — played by Nico Peaks and Anthony Scialabba. We get our introduction to the talents of Leo and Jack at the Moose Lodge.
The comic potential? In addition to the visual men-as-women gags, there are the silly wardrobe decisions that the men make, the on-the-fly changes in plans that are necessitated by unexpected plot twists, the chameleonic shifts from female to male and back, and the potential for love triangles (or even love quadrilaterals, as is the case with the Meg-Duncan-Leo-“Maxine” plot).
The show includes two “showcases” of Shakespearean speeches, each delightful in its own way. Fans of Shakespeare will also enjoy the Twelfth Night references and parallels as well as the Shakespearean quotes randomly interspersed into the dialogue.
In addition, there is a dance sequence that actually advances the plot and develops the characters. It is also delightful.
Our two favorite characters were Florence (with her dry wit and no-nonsense manner) and the highly energetic, delightfully ditzy Audrey.
The set and costumes, designed by director John McIlwee, are lavish, as well as appropriate. It would not be hyperbolic to refer to set and costumes both as “a visual feast.”
From the Department of Picky-Picky:
- At times, it was difficult to hear some of the actors.
- One actor enters from the back of the house; his volume could have been much higher at that point.
- The pace felt just a bit rushed in the opening scene.
- Some actors tended to shout their lines during intense moments. We wondered if the excitement could have been conveyed in a different fashion, at least on some of those occasions.
All-in-all, the opening-night audience on Feb. 11th thoroughly enjoyed the show!
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 12th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7824.
N.C. State University Theatre presents LEADING LADIES at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13, 2 p.m. Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17-20, and 2 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $20 ($6 NSCU students, $12 students, $16 NSCU faculty and staff, and $18 seniors 60+), except $12 on Community Night (Feb. 17th).
BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&event_val=LEAD.
SHOW: https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/whats-on-stage/ and https://www.facebook.com/LeadingLadiesNCState.
PRESENTER: https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/, https://www.facebook.com/ncstateuniversitytheatre, and https://twitter.com/ncsutheatre.
Leading Ladies (2004 comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/732/leading-ladies-ludwig (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.kenludwig.com/leading_ladies/leading_ladies.php (official web page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leading_Ladies (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books) and http://www.kenludwig.com/excerpts/Leading-Ladies_Excerpt.pdf (Ken Ludwig’s website).
Ken Ludwig (York, PA-born playwright): http://www.kenludwig.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/7069 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0525024/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Ludwig (Wikipedia).
John C. McIlwee (director and director of University Theatre): https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/our-team/ (NCSU bio).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.