On Theater: Boys will be girls in 'Leading Ladies'

For playwright Ken Ludwig, there truly is no business like show business.

He's turned out a string of comedies, all connected to the performing arts, such as "Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo" and "Twentieth Century."

With "Leading Ladies," now on stage at the Westminster Community Theater, Ludwig brings show biz to the provinces. The setting is York, Pa., where a pair of Shakespearean actors endeavor to claim a huge inheritance by posing as two long-lost cousins — the female variety.

While this script doesn't quite measure up to "Tenor" or "Buffalo" on the laugh meter, there are several moments of true hilarity in director Tom Mynar's uneven production. Most, of course, are provided by the fortune hunters in drag — on their arrival, one is dressed as Cleopatra, the other as a fairy queen, complete with wings.

Scott Finn enacts the mastermind of the pair, and is the most successful in the area of satirical comedy as well. His outlandish plot ensnares his hapless buddy, nicely played by Rick Reischman, who projects most of the physical comedy — he's well over six feet tall, clomping around in high heels.

Both find themselves falling for ladies of York, each of whom is romantically involved with someone else, and these rivals, naturally, are unworthy. Particularly the local clergyman (Bill Paxson), an avaricious acolyte whose voice suggests more of a Shakespearean actor than either of the visitors. He's strong, if a bit uneven in his rendition of a schemer.

Paxson's love interest — and Finn's — is the charming heiress Meg, played with equal portions of sweetness and cunningness by Kimberly Wooldrige. Reischman's character, meanwhile, tumbles for the sweet young roller skater enacted by the eye-catching Brooklyn Paxson (the cleric's real-life daughter), quite impressive in her stage debut.

A pair of senior citizens nearly steal the proceedings. Jim Perham scores as a crotchety old doctor, while Donna Lee Taylor — the shortest, frailest member of the troupe — virtually cracks the whip as the dowager who's not down yet. James Velasquez completes the picture as the skater's beau, a caricature of "civilians" attempting to act.

As for the show's technical aspects, well, its producers did have the temerity to open on Friday the 13th (I once did the same and the evening was governed by Murphy's Law). House lights came on, and stayed on, twice during the second act ("They worked fine during the week, in rehearsal," director Mynar shrugged) and the long, clunky scenic transitions of the first act work to the show's disadvantage.

"Leading Ladies" may now be a bit familiar — it's been staged previously by Golden West College and the Huntington Beach Playhouse — but the laughs are still there, and mined with alacrity and zeal at the Westminster Community Theater.

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Leading Ladies"

Where: Westminster Community Theater, 7272 Maple St., Westminster

When: At 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 28

Cost: $15 - $17

Call: (714) 527-5546; http://www.wctstage.org

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