Richard Benjamin Expected to Helm Ludwig's Comedy, Leading Ladies, in Regional Co-Production

News   Richard Benjamin Expected to Helm Ludwig's Comedy, Leading Ladies, in Regional Co-Production
Actor-director Richard Benjamin is expected to direct the world premiere co-production of Ken Ludwig's comedy, Leading Ladies, for Alley Theatre in Houston and The Cleveland Playhouse, Playbill On-Line has learned.

Ludwig confirmed that Benjamin was attached and that a reading was expected in February 2004, to be followed by August rehearsals for the full production to play the resident theatres at the top of their 2004-05 seasons. Ludwig hopes the eight-actor, one-set show will, like his Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo, make it to Broadway.

Ludwig is in the middle of a busy 2003-04 season: Not only has he directed two regional readings of Leading Ladies and seen the world premiere of his Shakespeare in Hollywood at DC's Arena Stage, his adaptation of Hecht and MacArthur's Twentieth Century played Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, last August and will start rehearsals in January for a separate Broadway staging by Roundabout Theatre Company (Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche star).

Ludwig said the readings of Leading Ladies in DC and Cleveland earlier in 2003 were instructive and he's doing revisions on the script before Benjamin hears the work in reading form.

Of Twentieth Century, the showbiz comedy set aboard the sleek train in the 1930s, Ludwig grumbled that he's read in news listings that the show is billed as "a revival," but "in actuality, it's an adaptation and it's been heavily adapted: It had 30 people in it, and now it's got a cast of 10. It's, in essence, a new script."

* Leading Ladies had a reading Oct. 30 at the Cleveland Playhouse with Bronson Pinchot and Craig Bierko in the drag roles of two actors masquerading as sisters in an effort to snag a fortune.

The 2004-05 Playhouse season has not yet been announced, not has the Alley in Houston announced its slate.

The new comedy by the Tony Award-nominated writer of Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and Crazy for You had a separate reading in Washington, DC, Sept. 22.

Ludwig told Playbill On-Line Leading Ladies is "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."

That twist, Ludwig revealed, is that the nephews are actually nieces, putting the leading men of the play into drag.

The roles are "Sort of like Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, which should give a pretty good hint about what happens in the play: The two English nephews turn out to be nieces. [They] have to go into the town in drag, wearing Cleopatra and Titania costumes from an old production. This convention hasn't been done on stage in a straight play since, literally, Charley's Aunt — at least that I know of, and I'm an addicted reader of stage comedies. And it just seemed to me that after a hundred and some years it was time to be done again."

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. He's also working on a libretto for a new musical comedy that would use the songs of the Irving Berlin catalog.

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