ORLANDO — Any theater in Orlando that survives for a more than few years eventually establishes a personality: the types of shows they become known for.
Theatre Downtown, one of the true legendary locations for theater in this town, has certainly done that. And over the years, Theatre Downtown has also become proficient at doing several shows by a particular playwright and really figuring out the formula that works for their style.
Following on the heels of the recent production of “Lend Me A Tenor,” the intimate black box space on Princeton and Orange Avenue brings us another farce from Ken Ludwig, “Leading Ladies.” And they once again do a good job of cracking the code.
Leo Clark (Michael Colavolpe) and Jack Gable (Rob Ross) are down on their luck hack Shakespearean actors who are now stuck playing a Best of Shakespeare compilation before unappreciative crowds on the rubber chicken circuit. Near broke and out of options, the friends learn of a dying heiress (Doreen Heard) in York, Pennsylvania who is searching for her long lost nephews from England in order to bequeath them two-thirds of her $3 million fortune. Then, they quickly learn it is nieces, not nephews who are missing. Undeterred, Clark talks Gable into portraying the nieces in order to score the money.
Upon arriving in York, Clark and James encounter a third niece, Meg Snider (Jamie-Lyn Hawkins) who is about to marry the Reverend Duncan Wooley (Kevin Bee), who has plans for the full $3 million inheritance for his charitable foundation. Meg also happens to be a fan of Clark and dreams of being an actress.
Also greeting the new arrival of the “nieces” are Dr. Myers (Larry Stallings), his son Butch (David Hiller) and young Audrey (Danielle Spisso). Over the course of the show, Clark and Gable continue their ruse while falling in love with Meg and Audrey respectively — while Reverend Wooley does everything he can to expose them as fraud, resulting in some hilarious moments.
This is the kind of show that, through unskilled hands, could become either a plodding series of one liners or an over the top mess of situational comedy contrivances thrown out in a dizzying succession. In the accomplished hands of director Tim Debaun, we instead get a tight show that holds our attention while letting the comedy flow naturally and the plot slowly unfold to a hilarious conclusion. Showing himself to be a man of many talents, Debaun has also come up with a gorgeous set design that effectively transforms Theatre Downtown’s small space into a believable facsimile for a York mansion.
The show features stand out performances from Colavolpe and Hawkins, who show a particular talent for finding the right balance between allowing the audience to enjoy a comic moment and milking it a bit too long. Additionally, their romantic progression rings true, particularly when compared to the one between Gable/Audrey. Colavolpe, in particular, does a stellar job of mining the humor of situations both as Clark and “Maxine.” He very nearly runs away with the show.
In a smaller role, Stallings induces the hearty belly laughs for which he is known for in the Orlando theater community. Among the rest of the cast, Ross as Gable is hindered by the fact that he actually comes across as too good an actor when performing lines from Shakespeare and too easy to believe as a woman to be believable in arousing the suspicion of Reverend Wooley. Bee, as Wooley, does a good job with a character that is rather one dimensionally written by Ludwig, finding explosions of anger and frustration within the carefully crafted veneer of composure.
Any quibbles I have are minor, and focus on costuming and some underdeveloped supporting characters. The costumes for Colavolpe as “Maxine” stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief, even in a farce such as this one.
And the characters of Butch and Audrey don’t seem to hold their own against the rest of the cast, especially given that they have some nice subplots to explore together and separately. That being said, neither of these points serve to mar the production in any significant way.
If you’re looking for a night of light hearted hilarity put on by a talented cast under skillful direction on a wonderful set, Theatre Downtown has the show for you with “Leading Ladies.”
The play runs through May 14. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees on May 1 and May 8 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, $16 for seniors and students.
For reservations call 407-841-0083.
Theatre Downtown is at 2113 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando.
To learn more, log on to www.theatredowntown.net.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.