Hannah Van Holten of Gilbert

Hannah Van Holten of Gilbert plays the role of Meg in State 48’s upcoming production of the hilarious “Leading Ladies.”

State 48 Theatre Company in Mesa is leading off the new year with a production of Ken Ludwig’s beloved farce, “Leading Ladies.”

The production, Jan. 15-25 at The Fuse Box, 943 S. Gilbert Road, Mesa, features eight East Valley performers. 

With flamboyant characters and clever antics of mistaken identity, the troupe relates the story of two English Shakespearean actors whose careers are in a rut. 

“The show will give audiences so many big belly laughs,” said director Andrea McFeely, who also is co-artistic director of State 48. “We had a hard time getting through rehearsal some days because we were laughing so hard. Our cast delivers on every single punchline, every time.”

Set in the 1950s, “Leading Ladies” centers on Jack and Leo and their resignation to performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. 

But their luck changes when they hear that an elderly lady on her deathbed plans to leave her fortune to two long-lost English nephews.

 Jack and Leo put their acting skills to the test, resolving to pass themselves off as her beloved relatives and get the cash. 

Their scheme starts to unravel after they arrive and learn that the old woman designated two nieces and not nephews as her beneficiaries.

They swap their slacks for petticoats in hopes of securing the windfall. 

Leo falls head-over-heels in love with the old lady’s vivacious niece and caretaker, Meg, who’s engaged to the local minister. 

“At its core, the show is about finding your identity and being true to yourself, but the story is told in such a bizarre and hysterical way,” said Karli Kemper, co-artistic director of State 48. 

“The comedic timing and chemistry of our performers is truly something to behold, especially when you consider that they’re such a hodgepodge of background and experience.”

The cast of “Leading Ladies” includes a retired school counselor, an IT technician, an analyst for Arizona State University, an art teacher and ballet dancer, and four college students. Most bring years of performance experience to their roles, while others are newer to the stage. 

To give something extra to the production, McFeely and Kemper also cast a quartet of teenage girls to serve as the technical crew. 

The catch is that they handle set and scene changes while donning 1950s-era garb and singing barbershop renditions of songs like “In the Still of the Night” and “Get a Job.”

“There’s a wealth of talent among the performers in our youth musicals and plays,” said McFeely. “This seemed like a great way to recruit them for our tech team and heighten the enjoyment for our audiences.”

Cast members from Gilbert include Hannah Van Holten (Meg), Ethan Cooke, Bryce Dilullo (Jack), Kylee Webb (Audrey) and Robyn Tye-Lennex (Florence). Mesa performers include Keith Aspinall (Duncan), Daniel Brugger (Doc) and Justin Kemper (Butch). Ethan Cook (Leo) lives in Tempe.

The singing tech crew includes Grace Davis, Averi Williams and Grace Schwenn, all from Mesa, and Erin Garner from Gilbert. 

“Leading Ladies” plays Jan. 15-25 with nightly performances at 7 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. 

Tickets are $14 and can be purchased at state48theatre.com/tickets. Information: state48theatre.com.

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