By Darcie J. Flansburg
Director Todd Paul Brown could not be happier directing for Redlands Footlighters again. On top of that, he was able to direct one of the funniest scripts he has read in a long time.
Leading Ladies follows two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors from England performing on the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania. They read about a dying woman looking for her long lost nephews (last seen when they were little children leaving for England) and decide to scam her out of the inheritance.
“It is one of the funniest scripts I’ve read in years,” Brown says. “It’s one of those rare scripts that made me literally laugh out loud the first time I read it. Even the exposition is funny.”
Brown says it is not an easy show to stage on the Footlighters center stage format, which, for him, was rather enticing.
“The biggest factor was that I also felt I had a lot to contribute to the telling of this particular story and in timing each of these brilliantly funny moments just right,” Brown said. “I put this show as my number one choice to direct and was absolutely tickled when I found out I got it.”
Brown also feels blessed to have the cast he does.
“I cannot stress this fact enough,” he says. “Each one of them is perfect for the character they play. Several audience members have said that to me. This ensemble is having a very unique experience. Everything in this show has just come together like magic and the cast absolutely loves each other.”
As a whole, they are the most “direct-able” bunch Brown has ever worked with.
“I remind them every day to relish the rest of the run because what they are experiencing is very rare,” Brown says. “This sort of chemistry and love doesn’t happen very often.”
Because of this love for each other, they have also been the hardest working cast Brown has ever seen.
“The actors were ready to go up a week and a half before opening night, which made it nice on me, getting to spend that much time polishing the show,” Brown says. “We’ve actually had several audience members come back a second time in just the first weekend and bring friends.”
Brown studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before entering college. He has been performing for 37 years and lost track of the number of shows in which he has performed.
“I’m not one of those actors who does not direct a whole lot,” Brown says. “I’ve only directed 14 shows prior to this one (Lettice and Loveage at the Footlighters being one of those). I spend a lot of energy every time I do it and, quite frankly, I prefer creating a character and performing to directing. I do love directing, but I only choose to direct when I get passionate about a project.”
Footlighters veteran Phillip Gabriel plays the part of Leo.
“I can’t pick just one thing to love about this show, but I can narrow it down to three: the script, Ken Ludwig is a genius; the director, Todd Brown is one of the most talented individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working with; and the cast, a truly talented and dedicated group of people who make going to the theatre each night a pleasure and doing this show one of my most memorable experiences,” Gabriel says.
Actress Amanda Walker loves the “electricity” of the cast as well.
“This cast has a chemistry that is rare and palpable. We feed off of each other,” Walker says. “The show starts with a burst of energy and just goes up, up and away from there. It’s non-stop.”
Brown can tell you that anyone who knows him knows that he does not recommend bad theater.
“I do not promote a show, regardless of who is involved, unless I honestly believe that people will get their money’s worth,” he says. “I am promoting this one heartily and without reservation.”
Leading Ladies at Redlands Footlighters Theatre, 1810 Barton Rd., Redlands, (909) 793-2909; www.redlandsfootlighters.org. Thru June 5. General admission $15, $10 students with ID.