August 21, 2008

Apple Hill Actors Dress Up for ‘Leading Ladies’

By Candy Williams

The "Leading Ladies" in Ken Ludwig's madcap comedy aren't really ladies at all. They're actually two down-on-their-luck men, Leo and Jack, who pose as women to swindle a dying old woman out of her fortune.

Veteran director Ron Ferrara of Vandergrift says Apple Hill Playhouse's production of "Leading Ladies" has all the makings of a hilarious piece of theater -- as long as he does his job.

"Making sure the pace is fast, that's the main thing," he says. "It's a farce. You've got to make it take off and keep going so it doesn't stall out."

Ferrara has directed two other Ludwig comedies, "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo," for New Kensington Civic Theatre and Apple Hill. Of the three works by the playwright, he says, "This one is the best. Every character is quirky with their own idiosyncrasies. There are no wasted roles."

Ferrara also has directed "The Underpants,""Misery" and "The Odd Couple" (male and female versions for both theater companies). One of his favorite acting roles was Max in "The Sound of Music" for Theatre Factory in Trafford. "Leading Ladies" is the 29th production he has directed, and he has acted in almost 40 shows.

Nate Newell of Greensburg, who portrays Leo, agrees that "Leading Ladies" is well worth seeing. Of the 43 productions he has been involved with since high school, "this is the funniest show I've ever been a part of," he says. "For anyone to miss this show with the talented cast involved would be very sad."

Switching sexes onstage isn't that challenging for Newell. In fact, he's finding wearing dresses and high heels easier than he expected.

"Of course, they've been kind to us not having us wear pinpoint stilettos," he says. "Still, I'll turn to Justin (Moore of Pittsburgh who plays Jack) and say, 'Is it wrong that this feels so natural?' "

Newell says he figures any time he can explore something that society doesn't find socially acceptable, it's a good thing for him - - although he jokes that in his job as a supervisor for a home building company, it might be difficult to explain his masculine- turned-feminine role "to my construction guys, but I'll get over that hurdle."

Newell directed "No Sex Please, We're British" earlier this season at Apple Hill, where he also will direct the musical "Lucky Stiff" in October.

Rounding out the Apple Hill cast of "Leading Ladies" are Briana Downs of Murrysville, Rosella Hoffman of Latrobe, Dennis Donegan of Greensburg, Monica Fillipone of Monroeville, Steven Rafferty of Irwin and Bob Peters of New Kensington.

The play contains regional references to the Pennsylvania Amish countryside, where the action starts out, and York, where Jack and Leo become Maxine and Stephanie, in search of their fortunes.

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