Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Ludwig set his play over one month in 1958 in the small town of York, Pennsylvania. Two down on their luck English Shakespearean actors, Jack and Leo, who are touring small towns performing their show of Shakespearean scenes at local Moose lodges, read a story in the paper that tells of an elderly local woman who is about to die and leave two-thirds of her inheritance to her two long lost English nephews whom she has yet to meet. Leo comes up with the brilliant scheme to pass themselves off as the two nephews, then they will wait for the woman to die, claim the funds, and head to Hollywood to jump start their acting careers. It seems like an easy way to make millions, however Jack and Leo discover they didn't read the entire article and the two nephews Steve and Max are actually the woman's nieces Stephanie and Maxine. Leo still thinks his plan would work and he convinces Jack to dress up with him as these two women, claiming that it would be "the role of a lifetime." Needless to say, the scheme spirals out of control almost as soon as it starts.
Director Petey Swartz has found a winning cast who not only create fun characters but also do exceptionally well in achieving the frenzied, high energy comic style of acting the play requires. Terry Gadaire and Roger Prenger form a winning twosome as Leo and Jack. Gadaire is commanding as the manipulative Leo with a refined sense of balance between control and urgency plus heightened comical gestures that deliver big laughs. While Prenger plays second fiddle to Gadaire for the first act, he blossoms in act two in several scenes where his body and facial expressions as Stephanie achieve guffaw-inducing moments. While both men make very homely looking women, that only adds to the humor especially in a scene late in act two where Gadaire expertly plays both Leo and Maxine almost at the same time with hilarious results.
In supporting parts, Morgan Ottersbach is vibrant and charming as the old woman's niece Meg, who would receive all of the inheritance if her two cousins were never found. This is something not lost on Duncan, the local minister to whom she is engaged and who already has plans for the funds. Dan Marburger does well as Duncan, the antagonist of the play, instilling this prickly and cheapskate man with just the right amount of suspicion that the two ladies are frauds. Darryl Poenisch is completely believable as this sweet, small town doctor who gets pulled into the action, while Alexia Lorch is a spitfire as Audrey, the young girl engaged to the doctor's son Butch. Her crackerjack comic timing and humorous line delivery create a fun and funny girl. Karl Perry and Donna Georgette get some big laughs as Butch and the old lady, respectively.
Swartz's direction delivers many bright, comical moments yet she also ensures that the cast create realistic people and not just comical caricatures. This includes both the male and female characters that Gadaire and Prenger play, which are all portrayed as unique individuals. Peter J. Hill's set design works well to create both the inside and outer courtyard of Meg's home while Mickey Courtney and Swartz's costume designs are perfect, especially the two outfits we first see Maxine and Stephanie wear which are right out of their trunk of Shakespearean costumes, fairy wings and all. Choreographer Noel Irick adds a simple but hilarious dance segment in the second act.
Leading Ladies may not be quite as funny as Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, which is full of slamming doors and craziness, but with a game cast, polished comical direction, and lovely creative elements, Fountain Hills' production delivers lovable characters and opportunities for some really big laughs.
Fountain Hills Theater's production of Leading Ladies runs through April 2nd, 2017, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills AZ. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Director: Petey Swartz