June 24 2009 12:00 AM

Supporting cast carries MSU’s ‘Ladies’

After a day of torrential downpours, the skies threatened to open up once again on Wednesday, the opening night of Michigan State University’s outdoor Summer Circle production of “Leading Ladies.” About 100 people braving the damp were rewarded with a piece of derivative-yet-fun farce.

The Ken Ludwig comedy is a basic rehash of many cross-dressing comedies that precede and exceed it, most obviously “Some Like It Hot.” Two downon-their luck Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable, decide to pull a con on a dying rich woman. Hearing that the woman is looking for two long-lost relatives to split her fortune with her granddaughter Meg, the actors decide to play the parts of the prodigal Max and Steve.

They soon find out Max and Steve are nieces, not nephews. Let the cross-dressing hilarity begin!

As the woman lingers, the men are forced to stay in her Pennsylvania home with Meg. Coincidentally, Meg is a fan of Shakespeare, and of Leo. At the drop of a soliloquy, Leo falls in love with Meg. However, Meg is engaged to shyster pulpit-pounder Duncan Wooley, played with exaggerated indignant feyness by Samuelle L. Clark.

After the somewhat tedious set-up of Act 1, the second act picks up speed, a fury of plotting and scheming, puppy love subplots, a humorous-if-not-head scratch-inducing tango interlude and a play-within-a-play plot device.

Vinnie Mascola’s Jack was similar to another Jack: Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company,” as he took advantage of his girl-guise to shower love-interest Audrey in hugs and the occasional inappropriate squeeze. But he’s also the best friend a guy could have, allowing Leo to use him as girl-bait to expose the corrupt Rev. Wooley. Mascola embraced the physical requirements of the role with gusto.

Allie Reid was a perfect choice for the role of Audrey. A stereotypical dumb blonde bombshell with a heart of gold, Reid portrays the character as one would expect, but also imbues her with sweetness and moxy. The chemistry between Jack and Audrey was playful and fun to watch.

Joel King’s Leo was too tightly wound and self-important, lacking any endearing characteristics. Michelle Meredith’s portrayal of Meg lacked nuance or depth of character. Both were average portrayals of these characters, and with a formula work such as this, the actor must bring something more to the role to create some soul in these otherwise cardboard cut-outs. King and Meredith failed to rise above the stereotypes, and they created almost no sexual tension between their characters.

Supporting players Seth Burk, as Butch Myers, and Alex West, as Doc Myers, brought some refreshing goofiness to their roles. One standout scene was a verbal battle of egos between West’s bad doctor and Clark’s even worse preacher.