BY BOOTS TOLSDORF – If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for the performance of “Leading Ladies,” directed by lovable, wonderful and talented Tad Ingram, you are in for a rollicking good time. Spoiler alert: think ‘“Some Like it Hot.” Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.’ And make sure you take some Aleve before you come. Otherwise, like me, your jaws will ache from laughing. Ken Ludwig’s plays, “Moon over Buffalo” and “Lend Me a Tenor,” have been performed here by RPP, but this one is the best.
The plot, delightfully convoluted, concerns two washed-up British actors, Leo and Jack, down on their luck and penniless, performing for Moose Lodge audiences in York, Pa. of all places, who find themselves in the right place at the right time. They get wind of a dying dowager, Florence, in nearby Shrewsbury, searching for her estranged British relatives, Max and Steve, to whom she would like to leave her millions. Aha! Opportunity! Small problem. Max and Steve are really Maxine and Stephanie, and so Leo and Jack continue on, undaunted, in drag. Complications ensue, of course, as Leo falls for Meg, Florence’s actual niece, and Jack swoons over Audrey, Florence’s part-time aide. Of course Meg is betrothed to an uptight minister with designs of his own, Duncan, and Audrey has a beau, Butch, who is none too bright. The cast is rounded out by a randy Doc, medically incompetent and raging with hormones.
The set is awesome. Laura Brock once again has crafted construction magic, complete with fresh furniture, a balcony, staircase and a lovely outdoor patio lit with fairy lights. We are so lucky to have her in our RPP family. And the costumes! Arnie Preston comes up with the perfect Shakespearean garb and period 1950s dresses, gowns, heels and wigs (and there are many) for all the characters. I guarantee that when Ross and Kris appear, you will crack up. Kudos to these women for their creativity. Their ingenuity is inspiring, their talent first-rate.
And the backstage crew. Cori Palmere and Sara McDonald knock themselves out with some speedy costume changes. Stage Manager Andrea Neilson has movable scenes working flawlessly with her able assistants, Heidi Heisel and Inga Toi. This production is full of challenges, and these women have it down.
Lighting, music and sound cues are expertly handled by Kyle Rich and Melisa Mutkoski. They make us look good.
Leo (Max), impersonated by Ross Witschonke, is whip-smart, charismatic and masculine, making his camp drag even funnier. He is a polished ladies’ man, very highbrow, and the brains of the two. Ross’s speedy delivery is comedy perfect, and he is equally comfortable in his own skin as well as in drag. His sidekick, Jack (Stephanie), played by Kris Doubles, is more of an odd duck. He is intentionally awkward and a reluctant follower in the deception. Galumphing around in high heels in befuddled amusement, Kris milks every bit of his adept physical and verbal comedy. It is a delight to see these two interact, and the moment-to-moment changes in their voices.
Joan Kale plays Meg and is adorably cute, bright, vivacious, sensuous and yet innocent. Meg so wants to be an actress, and Leo naturally falls in love with her, but she is betrothed to Duncan, a swarmy minister played by Dan Headington. Joan’s flexibility and her wonderful facial expressions only add to our enjoyment in watching her. Dan plays the staid, old-fashioned, completely mismatched fiance with the right amount of indifference, and when he “discovers” the “girls” are in drag, he is delighted to prove he has been right all along. In doing so, however, he once again makes a fool of himself.
Of course Jack too falls in love with Audrey, aide to the dying matriarch. Audrey, or Miss Tasty Bites, is delightful, impish Kimberly Whipple, who combines just the right amount of endearing ditz with a cartoonish character. She is impressed with her vocabulary, which she is committed to, and she willingly shares lots of hugs, even on roller skates.
The cast rounds out with Sam Campbell as Butch, who has one of the best sight gags in the show as he tries valiantly to execute a speech in a ”show within a show.” Perfect. Mark Masselink plays a randy Doc, whose medical ineptitude is only equaled by his immense lust for life – and for women of whom he is not too particular. I particularly enjoyed watching him bellow his thoughts, all with a slight smirky smile.
For comic relief, enter Florence, the decaying, hard-of-hearing dying aunt. Karen Snyder slipper-shuffles around, is forever poised on the brink of death, but seemingly stays alive for spite. Her sarcastic quips when sparring with Doc and Duncan are show highlights.
The “funny” of the guys dressed as gals is the absolute, complete absurdity of the women believing that the men are actually females. Florence can’t really see, and Doc and Butch are clueless. Only the minister is suspicious, and it is not because he suspects that the guys ARE girls. He wants to believe it so that he can inherit the money upon marriage to Meg and start a “foundation.” So roll with this humor, take it at face value, and enjoy the heck out of it.
“Leading Ladies” runs Wednesday, Feb. 12 through Saturday, Feb. 15, with performances at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, Feb. 16 with a performance at 5 p.m. Shows are almost sold out, but try your luck at the Community Center a half-hour early, as some people are no-shows.
For more photos from this performance by Dusty, go to https://bocabeacon.smugmug.com/Royal-Palm-Players-Leading-Ladies/