Leading Ladies review By Suzanne Tate

****.5 stars

Leading Ladies, written by Ken Ludwig, premiered in Texas in 2004. Set in 1958 in York, Pennsylvania, Leading Ladies depicts the farcical goings on when two down-on-their-luck English Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable decide to pose as the long lost nieces of a dying millionairess. They promptly fall in love with their ‘cousin’ Meg, and their ‘Aunt’s’ carer Audrey respectively and confusion ensues. This play is entertaining and highly amusing, but quite predictable. It is typical of the genre, and I was surprised to see it was written relatively recently.  It is often compared to the film Some Like it Hot, and perhaps that is where Nicole Melrose found inspiration for her role as Meg, which had a decidedly Marilyn Monroe-esque feel to it. Melrose’s Meg was genuine and believable, despite the somewhat stereotypical nature of how the character was played. Melrose did seem to have some issues with remembering her lines, but she was quite polished in covering and improvising, and was well supported by her fellow cast. The small cast (9 in total) were generally accomplished and worked well together. Maia Tilley, who played Audrey, had excellent comedic timing and wasn’t too heavy-handed with the oblivious nature of the character. Joe Dias did an excellent job playing Leo/Maxine. As Leo, he was the epitome of the stereotypical classically trained Shakespearian actor of the time, with a dash of the rogue, while Max was a flamboyant diva who kept everyone dancing to her tune. Matt Phillips, as Jack/Stephanie, also gave an impressive performance. His character required even more versatility. Not only between the male and female roles, but the different aspects of each character. Jack went from best friend to being in constant conflict with Leo, and Stephanie started as both mute and dumb, miraculously gained ‘her’ voice, and then became the seductress. Phillips was confident in all aspects of the role, moved convincingly as a female and had excellent comedic delivery.

The overall impression of the set was highly effective. It was appropriate for the era, with great attention to detail. The set made creative use of space, with the main house cleverly designed to suggest a larger space than what was actually visible (an entire room off stage suggested by pieces of furniture visible through an open door) and a small ‘box’ set used to create a convincing railway carriage. I did find some of the Director’s decisions about the use of the space confusing at times. There seemed to be some inconsistency with the intended use of certain areas, such as where to find the front door. The final scene, while amusing, was also confusing. My understanding is that this optional scene should show a truncated version of the play The Twelfth Night that the characters were supposed to perform. The posed scenes however seemed to depict humorous moments from the play we had just seen instead.

The costumes for the most part were convincingly from the period and generally fitted well. The notable exceptions were Maxine’s. Initially this seemed to make sense, as they were supposed to be commandeered from Leo and Jack’s collection of theatrical costumes. However, as the play progressed, the costumes were no longer from their Shakespearian repertoire, and often did not fit Dias’ tall, masculine frame. In one noteworthy scene, Dias almost managed to not turn his back on the audience at all, to hide the makeshift adjustments to a red evening dress. I also felt for Melrose, when her sleeve fell completely off her shoulder in an early scene. I was impressed with how long she resisted adjusting it, waiting until an appropriate moment.

Leading Ladies is a play that requires a huge commitment of energy from the entire cast, and that was very evident in this performance. The pace was brisk and engaging, and the laughs came frequently. The costume changes alone must have been exhausting for Dias and Phillips (which leads to a comedic highlight)!

Leading Ladies will be on at the 1812 theatre until the 7th of December and I can recommend it for an amusing nights entertainment.