A delightful comedy about friendship, romance and deception is charming audiences at the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in Oceano.
Directed by Eric Hoit, “Leading Ladies” is filled with crazy plot twists, cross-dressing actors and lots of laughs. The zany play by internationally-acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig was first produced by the Cleveland Playhouse in 2004.
Two downtrodden Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark (Sam Hartley) and Jack Gable (Toby Tropper), are struggling to make a living touring the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania in the 1950s.
While traveling between shows, the two read a newspaper article about an ailing old woman, Florence Snider (Jacqueline Hildebrand). Her dying wish is to find two long-lost English relatives, Max and Steve, to include in her will.
Leo and Jack decide to pass themselves off as the missing nephews to get a piece of Florence’s fortune. However, they soon discover that Max and Steve are really two nieces, Maxine and Stephanie. Undeterred, Leo and Jack use theater costumes to disguise themselves as women.
Masquerading as the lost nieces, Leo and Jack arrive at the Snider estate to find Florence’s spirited American niece, Meg (Sierra Wells), and her roller-skating waitress friend, Audrey (Meggie Siegrist). Meg is engaged to the stuffy local minister, Duncan (Alex Sheets), but she yearns for more excitement.
At Florence’s side is her useless physician, Doc (Andy Babinski), who repeatedly provides ineffective medical advice.
The plot gets more complicated when Leo falls madly in love with Meg. To spend more time with her, he convinces Meg to put on a Shakespearean play at Florence’s mansion. This provides moments of hilarity as Leo switches back and forth between himself and his female alter-ego, Maxine.
Meanwhile, suspicious of both nieces, Duncan schemes to uncover the truth.
Although the storyline of “Leading Ladies” may seem confusing at first, it is easy to follow the action and enjoy each frenzied situation.
Hartley and Tropper give stellar performances as Leo and Jack — and their female counterparts, Maxine and Stephanie. Hildebrand stands out as the cranky matriarch.
Wells brings intelligence to Meg and Siegrist is hilarious as her friend Audrey. Sheets and Babinski, meanwhile, are quite effective as supportive characters Duncan and Doc.
The cast members have great comic timing and excel at physical comedy. Most have appeared together in other recent Melodrama productions including “Bullshot Crummond” and “The Holiday Extravaganza.”
The majority of the play takes place in Florence’s living room, one of two sets tastefully designed by Brian Williams. The costumes, designed by Renee Van Niel, are stylish and playful — especially the amusing dresses worn by Leo and Jack.
Following performances of “Leading Ladies” is “The Flyin’ High Vaudeville Revue,” in which the Great America Melodrama takes a comedic look at various forms of flight.
Kites, airplanes, space travel and flightless birds are among the subjects addressed in this song-, dance- and comedy-filled revue directed by Hoit, with musical direction by Kevin Lawson and choreography by Leah Kolb.
The revue pairs popular oldies and contemporary songs with funny skits. One deals with the frustration of having your luggage lost by an airline and includes a parody of a Paul Simon classic — “50 Ways to Lose Your Luggage.”
There is even an amusing parody of the musical “Peter Pan,” featuring that mischievous boy who can fly.
Together with “The Flyin’ High Vaudeville Revue,” “Leading Ladies” will certainly keep you laughing. So take a friend and lead the way to this newest production at the Melodrama.
7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday; through April 26
Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville, 1863 Front St., Oceano
$19 to $25
489-2499 or www.americanmelodrama.com