Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis — stars of the classic comedy movie "Some Like It Hot" — would be envious of Nicholas Callan Haubner and Kevin Koehne if they would have seen their opening night performances in Waukesha Civic Theatre's "Leading Ladies."
Haubner and Koehne play two struggling British Shakespearean actors who learn they could come into a fortune if they can act their way through the roles of their lifetime — they must convince a family they've never met that they are the long lost nieces of their wealthy dying "aunt."
Lemmon and Curtis also played cross-dressers who join an all-female band to avoid being exposed after witnessing a gang massacre. In both shows, the men — dressed as women — find themselves being attracted to women. In "Some Like It Hot," it was Marilyn Monroe. In "Leading Ladies," it's the niece of the wealthy aunt, Meg (Tanya Tranberg), and fiancée of her doctor's son, Audrey (Lauren Heinen). The men, dressed in drag, must keep their maleness in check to keep from being exposed and foil their plans.
Under the direction of Dustin J. Martin, Haubner and Koehne and the rest of the cast have pulled off this marvelous piece of theater. The success of the show, however, totally hinges on how well Haubner and Koehne can manage their two characters, and they do it with ease.
The scene is set at the home of Meg and her frail, but still feisty, Aunt Florence (Denise Meagher). Meg is engaged to Duncan (Andrew Kelly), a not-so-holy man of the cloth. Florence's doctor (Jim Mallmann) tends to the sickly lady in her home. Other frequent visitors to the home are the Doc's son, Butch (Noah Maguire) and his girlfriend, Audrey (Lauren Heinen).
Meg and Duncan are getting ready for their wedding in just a few days when Leo and Jack show up as Maxine and Stephanie, believing Aunt Florence has died and they will inherit a million dollars each.
The plot thickens when Meg tells Leo, while dressed as Maxine, that she's a big fan of Leo and a closet Shakespearean actor herself.
Maxine tells Meg that she's a friend of Leo's and arranges to have him direct her in a performance of "Twelfth Night," which has similar gender confusions as what is going on in the play.
In the meantime, Jack is falling for Audrey while in his Stephanie character.
Stephanie's looks of bottled up restraint as Audrey playfully hugs him are priceless.
Acting it out
As Stephanie Koehne's mugging and the outlandish poses he assumes in his new role as a woman are so remindful of Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot." His scene in which Stephanie is pursued by two men at once is one of the funniest, since the hilarious antics of another Ken Ludwig play, "Lend Me a Tenor."
But it is Haubner who really puts his two characters out there. He conveys Leo's desperation after another failed gig and then dives into his Maxine character with the flair of a diva. His and Koehne's performances are nothing short of remarkable.
Tranberg and Heinen as Meg and Audrey are the perfect foils to these two hucksters. I really enjoyed Heinen's first meeting with the two on the train, as an attendant on roller skates. Her character is the perfect blend of ditz and self-confidence. Tranberg, too, is most appealing and adept at the comedy which has her successfully jockeying among Leo, Maxine and Duncan.
Mallmann's Doc is nicely taciturn as he deals with the cantankerous Aunt Florence, in a fine comedic turn by Meagher.
The ending is a hilarious backward replaying of the entire show, similar to the "Lend Me a Tenor" finale.
Michael Talaska, master carpenter and scenic designer, has created a handsome set with an easy-on-the-eyes green background, substantial French doors and sturdy staircase to handle the activity in the farce.
Ludwig's hilarity and frenetic fun are showcased without disguise in this latest WCT offering.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: "Leading Ladies"
When: Through March 20
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Information:(262) 547-0708, www.waukeshacivictheatre.org