The work, Ludwig told Playbill On-Line, is in the tradition of his comedies, Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me a Tenor: "It's about two English Shakespearean actors who end up in the Amish country, in York, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, putting on second-rate Shakespeare."
York is the town where Ludwig was born and raised. The British actors who find themselves in Pennsylvania in Leading Ladies are presenting a piece called Scenes From Shakespeare, "some horrible little show, where they tend to play the Moose Lodge and the Elks Lodge," Ludwig said. "I was exposed to this, I saw it, I was there."
The desperate thespians learn that a rich old lady in York is dying and will leave her money to her only surviving relative — the niece who takes care of her. But the lady wants to find her two long, lost nephews — who are English. She hasn't seen them since they were infants, when their mother took them to England.
"If she can find them, she wants to split the inheritance three ways — $3 million into $1 million for each," Ludwig explained. "These two actors decide to pose as the two nephews. There's one major, major twist in the story that changes everything."
The Cleveland Play House has not announced its 2004 season, but Ludwig said Leading Ladies is on the schedule there. The DC-area reading is at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, under Ludwig's direction. His revision of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Twentieth Century is currently playing the Signature.
The eight-actor reading cast for Leading Ladies in the DC is drawn from companies of Twentieth Century and the dawning Arena Stage world premiere of Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood. Expect Alice Ripley and Everett Quinton in the reading troupe.
DC-based Ludwig was Tony-nommed for the libretto for Crazy for You, the musical that won the Best Musical Tony Award, and for the comedy, Lend Me a Tenor. Both properties are international favorites in theatres.
He also wrote the book to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a short-lived Broadway musical that is now licensed for stock, amateur and regional productions.
For information about Shakespeare in Hollywood at Arena Stage, visit www.sig-online.org.