John Frost & Meerkat Theatricals
May 28 – June 13 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Legends! is a lovely, light, laughter-filled evening with Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills and (Juliet’s real-life husband), Maxwell Caulfield, with appearances by Leah Howard, David Denis and Phillip Lowe.
As the sun sets in Manhattan the claws come out as two famous but fading movie stars try to upstage one another. Leatrice Monsee (Hayley Mills) and Sylvia Glenn (Juliet Mills) are hustled by a theatre producer played by Caulfield (Grease 2, Dynasty, The Colbys) to kick-start their once-luminous careers by starring in a Broadway–bound play.
There’s just one problem: they loathe one another.
Director, Christoher Renshaw, and his cast have had a bit of fun with this production and how could they not? The playful, spiteful banter between the legendary sisters is beautifully measured and delivered, and the comedy is just enough to break up this age-old tale into delectable bite-sized pieces.
The show opens with a dodgy off-Broadway producer, Martin Klemmer, wheeling and dealing via Skype in a Broadway cafe. Caulfield’s character’s city drawl and his inability to sit still for an entire conversation make him a likeable enough fellow – you’d buy him a drink at the bar – but you wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him out the door at closing time. His scruffy charm and conniving ways land him a meeting with the ladies he feels are best suited for his next Broadway-bound show. Little does he know that the fading stars are both down on their luck, having whittled away their fortunes, and they’re ready to take any offer.
The meeting is set to take place in an impressive Manhattan home, which belongs to neither Leatrice Monsee nor Sylvia Glenn, but Leatrice knows the owner is out of town and she knows the help well enough to ask a favour. Designer, NIDA grad Justin Nardella, has created a gorgeous house, lavishly decorated in all its fine detail, to be trashed by the end of the show as shenanigans reach ridiculous stage.
Howard is hilarious as the maid, Aretha, who’d planned a house party for the same night, taking every opportunity to imbibe her scenes with brash energy and terrific pace without pulling focus, a supporting actress in every sense of the word.
As things heat up between the two rivals, Aretha, not realising somebody had booked a male stripper for the party, answers the door to Boom-Boom, a legit “Gypsy Rose Leroy” (Denis), who just about becomes the highlight of Act 1!
Act 2 opens with a three-phone-farce – three different conversations expertly manipulated by Caulfield. Klemmer has guaranteed George Clooney’s involvement in the show only Clooney doesn’t yet know anything about the project. The pace and physical comedy of this short scene reminds me of our fabulous Barb Lowing juggling several phones with ease in QTC’s The China Incident, directed by Dan Evans.
When everybody tries Aretha’s friend’s voodoo-woo-hoo-who-do-you-do-ju-ju hash brownies intended for the party, we get a whole lot of funny physical comedy inspired by a last-minute clean up of the stunning place before Klemmer’s arrival. When Klemmer takes several brownies for himself we witness the most atrocious exhibition of getting rapidly high that I’ve ever seen. Strange, but there you have it.
The only real problem with the production is that the writing ends before the play does and the final scene is oddly unfinished. It’s an anti-climax that could make you feel a little gipped after an enjoyable night out with acting royalty, who recognise what this is and give it precisely the sparkle it needs.
Production pics by Jeff Busby