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Leading Ladies: Go Big or Go Home

Review by Jack Crumley of Leading Ladies: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Following the thoughtful intensity of Doubt, A Parable, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts presents a considerable change of pace for March and early April in Leading Ladies: Ken Ludwig’s 2004 farce about… well… men who pretend to be women for money but then fall in love with the women they’re tricking.

Try to stay with me here: Leo and Jack are a pair of down-on-their luck Shakespearean actors in 1958 Pennsylvania who hatch a scheme to trick a rich old woman into thinking they’re her long-lost relatives (Max and Steve) to win a cut of her estate. The two find out that the missing nephews are actually nieces (Maxine and Stephanie), but that just means different costumes to wear for the fleecing. They also meet (and fall in love with) an actual living niece, Meg, and her energetic, roller skating friend, Audrey. Cue the wacky hijinks that include quick costume changes, cartoonishly bad disguises, some occasional grab-ass, surprise kissing, and a fun dance number.

This is a high-energy show that really moves, and all of the actors do great job of keeping things humming along. They’ve all got a good rapport, which helps with the pace and the timing needed to keep this whirling dervish of a plot going. The cast is an even mix of some familiar faces with Cincinnati Landmark Productions and others making their debut, but all work together exceptionally well.

Daniel Cooley’s Leo and Drew Davidson’s Jack have a solid chemistry throughout the show, whether they’re playing men or men pretending to be women. Cooley’s work especially gives off a vibe that is equal parts manic and focused, and it seems like the pair have an almost Abbott & Costello-like relationship.

Natasha Boeckmann plays Meg, and delivers a performance with a believable, almost ingenue quality. Her friend, Audrey (played by the vivacious Leiren Jackson), is a sexy, goofy contrast to Meg’s more reserved, engaged-to-a-conservative-minister-but-desperate-to-be-an-actress nature. Plus, Audrey’s introduction on skates in a train car is one of my all-time favorites.

Did I not mention that Meg’s fiancee is a very white bread, reactionary man of God who grows increasingly suspicious of Leo/Maxine and Jack/Stephanie? Well, it’s a farce, so you’ve gotta keep up. Jamie Steele plays that fiancee, Duncan, as both a paternalistic and whiny spouse who’s fun to root against.

Rounding out the cast is Harold Murphy as Doc, the rude, horny physician who’s treating Peggy Allen’s rich and ailing, but still feisty, Aunt Florence. Elliot Handkins plays Butch, the awkward son of Doc who wants to marry Audrey.

For the most part, the show takes place in a large living room in a larger house. Brett Bowling’s set design takes up the entire stage, and the whole space feels much wider than previous productions. As such, the characters do a lot of pacing during their scenes, and that blocking works sometimes more than others. But, the characters need all that space as the story progresses, and some of the interactions become more… physical. Audiences should be aware that this show has some cursing, and it’s much more risque and bawdy than I was expecting.

Leading Ladies picks up where Covedale’s The Foreigner left off in the fall, and cranks every outlandish situation up to eleven. This show is BROAD and a lot of irreverent fun.

Leading Ladies plays at the Covedale Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through April 2. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa