LEADING LADIESby Ken Ludwig
Allen Community Theatre
Directed by Robyn Mead
Set Design – LaMar Graham
Costume Design – Shawn Wade and Robyn Mead
Lighting Design – Darien Graham
Sound Design – Richard Stephens, Sr. and René Shinavar
Properties – Dori Weidler
Combat Coordinator – Jeremy Stein
Stage Manager – Madreane Covington
Penny Chinn – Meg Snider
Shawn Wade – Leo Clark
Matthew Stepanek – Jack Gable
Devon Rose – Audrey
Bill Olds – Duncan Wooley
Gene Graham – Florence Snider
Doug Smetzer – Doc Myers
Dori Weidler – Butch Myers
Craig Brunette – Head Moose, Conductor, Heckler
Reviewed Performance: 4/17/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Playwright Ken Ludwig has adapted a great many classics for the stage, including The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but he is probably best-known for his comedies Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo. Like “Tenor” and “Moon,” his non-adaptations almost always have the theatre as their backdrop, as in Shakespeare in Hollywood and Twentieth Century, and again, Leading Ladies is no exception.
The play takes place in spring of 1958, and Meg Snider (Penny Chinn) is planning to go with her fiancé, the Rev. Duncan Wooley (Bill Olds) to the local Moose Lodge to see British actors Leo Clark and Jack Gable (Shawn Wade and Matthew Stepanek, respectively) perform scenes from Shakespeare. Unfortunately, her fiancé, who is not a fan of the theatre, forgetfully loaned his car to one of his parishioners and they can’t go.
At the Moose Lodge, the performance doesn’t go as the actors had hoped. Then Leo reads in the newspaper that a wealthy dying woman named Florence Snider (played by Gena Graham) is looking for her long-lost relatives, Max and Steve, to bestow $3 million upon when she dies. Unfortunately they quickly discover though the convenient appearance of a soon-to-be-waitress on skates named Audrey (played by Devon Rose) that these relatives are actually Maxine and Stephanie, but they are undeterred and raid the costume trunks.
Upon arriving at the Snider home looking quite a bit like Cleopatra and a fairy princess (complete with wings and glittery hair), Leo quickly falls for Meg and as Maxine, tries to convince her not to marry Duncan.
The plot from there goes a little crazy, with Jack falling for Audrey and Duncan trying to keep the “girls” from receiving their share of his fiancée‘s inheritance. Since it’s a comedy, all’s well that ends well, but the getting there is a lot of fun!
The first act takes place in five short scenes in different locations, involving quite a few blackouts and set changes. There was no music covering these changes, so they felt longer than they were and slowed down the pace. During intermission and the curtain call, Sound Designers Richard Stephens, Sr. and René Shinavar picked pop songs from the 1950s that didn’t seem to go with the storyline. However, the set change from the living room into the Moose Lodge and then the train car was quite impressive, despite there being no music to move it along. Set Designer LaMar Graham did a nice job with an ambitious set, although the walls of the Snider living room needed some texturing or wallpaper or something to cover the seams in the flats. The “perspective” on the upstairs hallway was also an odd choice.
Lighting by Darien Graham was good, except for a dark spot directly center stage, and Dori Weidler’s props were right for the period and the show. Costumes by Shawn Wade and Robyn Mead were the weakest part of the design elements as they all looked somewhat unfinished. Black bras and other undergarments, not of the period, showed under all of Maxine and Stephanie’s dresses, which was very distracting, especially in the Cleopatra outfit as it didn’t close completely in the back and fit poorly on the arms. Stephanie’s red dress for the wedding was great...until the character turned around and we saw a thick black bra strap along the back.
The costume changes, however, were extremely well-done. Dressers Glenn Allen and Alison Baron had their hands full through most of the second act and did an admirable job making sure Jack/Stephanie and Leo/Maxine hit their entrances.
As Leo/Maxine, Shawn Wade did an excellent job. He was definitely the Tony Curtis of the two men, the alpha, the one who always gets his way. He and Ms. Chinn had very nice chemistry and played well off of each other. Mr. Wade had a good handle on the British accent, as well as the Shakespearean language and the sword fighting, and was very fun to watch. And the audience loved him!
Of course, they also loved Matthew Stepanek as Jack/Stephanie. But why wouldn’t they? His facial expressions alone were worth the price of admission! Like his counterpart, he also played the “English actor doing Shakespeare” very well, and as the Jack Lemmon of the men, his put-upon, best friend characterization was spot on. Mr. Stepanek also had more of a pitch change between his male and female characters, and some of his near-growling vocalizations as Jack, combined with that rubber face, while in drag, were hilarious.
Devon Rose as Audrey (another nod to Shakespeare) was a bundle of energy. She obviously enjoyed playing the kind of dumb yet know-it-all “tough gal” and she did it well. Her costumes were the best fitting and most period appropriate, although the green character shoes were a mystery.
As played by Penny Chinn, Meg was adorable. The audience fell in love with her on sight, and were rooting for her NOT to marry the stuffy minister (Bill Olds) even before they saw who her other options were. For one thing, Mr. Olds came across as far too foppish in the role, and I had some trouble imagining the character wanting anything out of Meg beyond her money.
The supporting cast was hit and miss. While an odd choice for the role, Dori Weidler was fun to watch as Butch Myers. She threw her all into it and made it work. Nice job! Doug Smetzer as Doc Myers was a little wooden but serviceable. Craig Brunette as the Head Moose was too quiet and hard to understand but he sure got the audience doing moose calls! Gena Graham was far too young to be playing Florence Snider and her age makeup came across as merely black lines in ACT’s intimate setting. She made the role a caricature, especially at first, instead of finding some more realistic ways to portray the aging matriarch. Yes, it’s farce, but old people aren’t always slumped over and squeaky-voiced. Her character did get better in the second act as her health improved.
Leading Ladies has always been a very popular play in the Ludwig canon and I can see why, especially as directed by Robyn Mead and produced by ACT. It’s a fun, fast-paced, roller coaster of a show, with exceptional leads Mr. Stepanek and Mr. Wade giving exhaustingly entertaining performances. They must go home completely wiped out. But just as in the show, it’s all worth it for the theatre.
Allen’s Community Theatre has come a long, long way since their first production in an echo-filled, multi-purpose room at a church several years ago. They’ve been in their new theatre space about a year and it was packed at the performance I attended, so they’re obviously doing something right. I laughed and guffawed with the rest of the audience, and I think I can safely say we all enjoyed ourselves. Even those who know nothing about Shakespeare or the theatre will come out smiling at the antics of those crazy guys in dresses, both trying to get the girl.
Allen’s Community Theatre
1206 E. Main Street, Suite 105
Allen, TX 75002
Runs through April 26th
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $21.00, $19.00 for seniors 65+, and $16.00 for children under 18.
KERA members can purchase tickets for $16.00 on Thursdays only.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.allenscommunitytheatre.net.