By Daniel Skora
Martin Klemmer holds in his grubby little showbiz hands the script for a new play that he’s sure will be a success. The script has to do with Star Wars, and ever since those two George Lucas outer space films set box offices on fire, everything that has anything to do with that “galaxy far, far away” is making cash registers ring all across the country. The only thing left for the producer to do is to convince the powers that be that launching the show is the right thing to do.
Klemmer understands that a couple of name actresses would lend star power to the marquee and really help his case. Which is where Sylvia Glenn and Leatrice Monsee come in. Both are one-time big names who would be perfect for the show. Though their popularity has faded, their presence in the show would provide enough of a curiosity factor to bring in the customers. And as an added bonus, Klemmer could probably get them for cheap. But there’s one problem: Sylvia and Leatrice, who have crossed paths many times before in their careers with often disastrous results, have grown to despise each other.
And that pretty much sums up the premise for “Legends!”, the current offering of Meadow Brook Theatre. The play is a 1986 comedy by playwright, novelist, and actor James Kirkwood, perhaps better known as the writer for the Tony Award winning “A Chorus Line”. “Legends!” is an often-times hilarious play that takes an amusing look at two aging actresses trying to balance their desire to return to the stage against their personal dislike for their would-be costars.
“Legends!” was, from its creation, a vehicle for getting two Broadway megastars together on one stage. Carol Channing and Mary Martin were part of the original cast, and if having two actresses who had already completed the work they would be remembered for playing two actresses whose work had been completed years before wasn’t a case of life imitating art, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example. Martin quit the show over a dispute concerning changes to the script. Channing exited some time after. The show then folded but was resurrected some years later with Joan Collins and Linda Evans in the lead roles. All this is to say that without a continuous supply of celebrity talent to stoke the nostalgia furnace, “Legend!” was unable to find its way onto a Broadway stage in no small part because it could not overcome the jumble of a disharmonious script.
Much of the show’s early 50 minutes or so are spent, sometimes laboriously, with Sylvia and Leatrice trading accusatory barbs with each other. Ruth Crawford and Mary Gant, two very talented and seasoned actresses, play Sylvia and Leatrice in MBT’s production. Both do a fine job delivering Kirkwood’s script but neither come off as inherently funny, nor do they establish the kind of chemistry that would help make the laughs jump out of the script. Brian Kessler’s set of a luxurious New York apartment is nicely appointed, but the spaciousness it provides on Meadow Brook’s expansive stage often seems to overwhelm a play that mostly focuses on only a few characters at a time.
The best parts of “Legends!” play like skits that were inserted by the playwright in an effort to shore up a rather skimpy plot. Anthony Guest, playing the harried producer Martin Klemmer, has two of them. In the first, he’s alone in the New York subway by a bank of pay phones, trying unsuccessfully to juggle three telephone conversations at the same time. In the other, both his mind and body have become unhinged while experiencing the effects of hashish-laced brownies.
Another funny skit belongs to Tyrick Wiltez Jones who plays Boom-Boom Johnson. Boom-Boom comes a-calling at the behest of the Chippendales. And while the ladies, stuck in a mind-set that’s sometimes as old as the plays they once acted in, ponder the significance of a furniture guy calling on them, Boom-Boom, nattily attired in top hat and breakaway tuxedo, proceeds to show them that though it’s they who must decide whether or not they want to return to the stage, it’s he who has considerably more skin in the game.
Sheila Alyce Slaughter contributes a fine performance as Aretha Thomas, a maid who has had to cancel the arrangements for her bachelorette party because the apartment she works in has been taken over by the two actresses. Matt Siadak makes a brief appearance as a policeman who comes to answer a complaint about a disturbance.
Peccadilloes aside, “Legends!” is the kind of show that will bring a smile to your face and perhaps a little warmth to your heart. It’s directed by Travis W. Walter, who never misses an opportunity to end a show with one his traditionally flashy closing numbers, and “Legends!” has a good one. Costumes for the production are by Corey Collins, lighting comes courtesy of Reid G. Johnson.
“Legends!” runs through January 31st. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 248.377.3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester MI.