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'Leading Ladies' at Leepa-Rattner is cross-dressing, gold-digging, fun

Jack (Jonathan Henkel, center left), disguised as Stephanie, talks to Audrey (Erika Pratesi), who is in line for one-third of an inheritance.

BARBARA FREDRICKSEN | Times

Jack (Jonathan Henkel, center left), disguised as Stephanie, talks to Audrey (Erika Pratesi), who is in line for one-third of an inheritance.

If you're a fan of Some Like It Hot, Charley's Aunt or Noel Coward, you'll find that and more in Ken Ludwig's 2004 farce Leading Ladies, a zany tale of fortune-hunting cross-dressers, a stuffy, gold-digging minister, a ditsy blond or two and some off-the-wall Shakespeare, all set in the 1950s.

"(It's) fast and sexy in a good-natured way, written by a master of the genre," said Diana Forgione, whose Avenue Players Theatre troupe opens the show Wednesday for nine performances through Dec. 13 at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art auditorium in Tarpon Springs.

In it, two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors, Leo (Michael Bruno, Lord George in The Admirable Crichton) and Jack (Jonathan Henkel), seem to have hit the end of the acting trail, reduced to doing scenes from the Bard's plays during rowdy Moose Lodge meetings in the Pennsylvania's Amish country.

By happenstance, they hear that a wealthy elderly woman in nearby York, Pa., is on the verge of death and intends to leave her fortune to two long-lost nephews, Max and Steve, whom she has never seen. The crafty Leo convinces the sweet-natured Jack that they should go to York and inform dear old Aunt Florence (Doris Cerio, Monica in The Bad Seed at Richey Suncoast Theatre) that they are her long-lost relatives.

They hop a train, where they meet the roller-skating Audrey (Erika Pratesi), a pal of Aunt Florence's niece Meg (Lindsay Miller, Beatrice in The Servant of Two Masters), who is in line for one-third of the inheritance.

It's only as they near York that Leo and Jack learn that "nephews" Max and Steve are really nieces Maxine and Stephanie.

Undaunted, Leo insists that he and Jack go through with their scheme, presenting themselves to a surprisingly healthy Aunt Florence decked out in glorious female attire dug from their theatrical wardrobe trunks.

Aunt Flo is smitten by the girls/guys, and the guys are smitten by cousin Meg and the ditsy Audrey.

Unfortunately, Meg is on the verge of marrying the Rev. Duncan Wooley (Rick Kastel, Blithe Spirit), who is salivating over the idea of Meg's upcoming windfall. When Wooley decides to thwart Meg's growing affection for Maxine/Leo, and it appears that Audrey is going to end up with the dullard family friend Butch (William J. Farly, Myron in Awake and Sing), Leo and Jack decide it's time they reveal themselves for who they are — but that would mean losing out on the $2 million should good old Aunt Flo make her final exit.

The result has the fellows doing a quick change from one gender to the other, wooing Meg and Audrey as Leo and Jack, dancing wild tangos with the smitten Doc Meyers (John Nelligan) and the frisky Rev. Wooley, and coaching one and all to do Shakespeare to celebrate (and postpone) Meg's marriage.

There doesn't appear to be a logical way for the guys to have it all — or even anything, for that matter. But playwright Ludwig (Moon Over Buffalo, Lend Me a Tenor) has never been constrained by logic, only by the desire to provide nonstop fun and laughter, and Leading Ladies appears to be no exception.

FAST FACTS

If you go

What: Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies

Where: Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art auditorium, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs (half a mile west of U.S. 19).

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Dec. 4, 10 and 11; 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13.

Tickets: $12 nonmembers, $10 museum members and students. Call (727) 712-5762. A mini docent-led tour of the museum 30 minutes before curtain is included in the ticket price, as are refreshments and candy.

'Leading Ladies' at Leepa-Rattner is cross-dressing, gold-digging, fun 11/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2009 8:11pm]

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