BWW Review: LEADING LADIES at Salem Players is an Uproarious Good Time
It's fortuitous that I'm publishing this review on #LoveTheatre day because it must be said - I loved LEADING LADIES playing currently at Salem Players in Catonsville. This particular show with this talented cast of actors was a pretty fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon. For some reason, this was my first experience seeing a Salem Players production. As I've since learned, this theatre company has been around for nearly 50 years. Judging by the time I spent there, I can certainly see why.
The play itself, written by Ken Ludwig, was a fabulous and fun choice. It's a farce full of misunderstandings, confusion, and men wearing dresses. The actors cast in these roles seemed to be strong comedians, and the script allowed them to embrace the ridiculousness in all sorts of different ways. They milked each and every joke perfectly, to varying degrees of hilarity. The setup - two men pretending to be women to abscond with an old lady's fortune - is an old standard. But what these actors - Jim Gerhardt & Lenny Taube - did with the material was a delight. From the dresses, to the faux falsetto voices, to the utter annoyance of the characters who had to be both themselves and their female alter egos, the actors drew bigger and bigger laughs over the course of the show.
Taube & Gerhardt were obviously the leads in the piece, seeing as they were playing the leading ladies the to which the title referred. However, it's difficult to call anyone out specifically in this ensemble because each actor was so good in their role. They gelled with each other wonderfully. And their comic timing individually and with the rest of the cast was terrific wonderful.
Another part of the show I really enjoyed was the team's use of the space. I was pleasantly surprised by the two actor-plants in the audience. One actor sat in the front row for about 10 minutes leading up to curtain-up, then bounded onto stage to start the show. Then this particular actor "argued" with another plant in the audience later in the same scene. It was a fun way to expand the world of the show apart from just the stage. Though, the stage itself was also very impressive. One of the must-haves of any farce is the presence of doors where characters can make grand exits and entrances or hide away, as the case may be. And for such a small space, this stage had plenty of them. The set itself was minimal, but was homey enough that it could have been someone's comfortable living room. I'm always impressed by small design choices that help convey a certain aspect of the setting, and clearly this set designer knew what he was doing. The same can be said for the costume designer. I'm a sucker for fun outfits, and half way through the play I found myself coveting the adorable dresses that Ashley Gerhardt was wearing throughout the show. Not to mention, finding or making dresses for the men that were pretty to look at, comfortable for the men and and funny as well, couldn't have been easy.
The only small distraction through the piece was the use of music between scenes. While "Happy" by Pharrell Williams is a great song, I'm not sure snippets of it needed to be played for each scene change. I could see where they were going with it - it's a happy show, so happy music made sense. However, it didn't really fit the setting of the show. Maybe some instrumental music would have been a bit better to set the stage.
Other than that minor detail, the entire production was pretty perfect. This cast has a fantastic mix of humor, rapport, and talent, all of which are on display throughout the show. By the time the creative curtain call came - actors stayed in character through the call - I was cheering for this fabulous show and this wonderful group of actors, as was the rest of the very happy audience.