Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, a farcical homage to ‘50s stage stars who toured the country doing plays in repertory, isn’t a gem on the order of his reputation-making Lend Me a Tenor. But it’s the second best of Ludwig’s plays, a reliable laugh machine that, done well, functions with the precision of a Swiss watch.
Thanks to director Michael Leeds and his deft cast, Stage Door Theatre’s new production of Moon Over Buffalo ticks away expertly from start to finish.
Ludwig’s fading stage stars are George and Charlotte Hay, a seasoned acting couple who aimed for the starry heights of, say, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne but never quite got there. Movies and the then-new medium of television haven’t really embraced George and Charlotte, so here they are in Buffalo circa 1953 getting ready to perform Cyrano de Bergerac and Noel Coward’s tartly witty Private Lives.
Truth be told, their endless days and nights on the road have gotten to George and Charlotte in different ways. George (Ken Clement), he of the sonorous voice and no-longer-trim waistline, has had a one-night fling with company ingénue Eileen (Jessica Carmen), a tryst that will prove problematic as the play goes on. Charlotte (Michelle Foytek) still dreams of the movie stardom she’s certain she deserves, and her suspicions about George’s wayward ways don’t make life on the road any easier.
Ludwig mixes in a handful of other characters: Ethel (Miki Edelman), Charlotte’s deaf mom and backstage busybody; Roz (Susan Slotoroff), the Hays’ daughter who has jumped ship into advertising; Howard (Edward Miskie), Roz’s TV weatherman fiancé; Paul (Andy Quiroga), the company member who used to be engaged to Roz; and Richard (Glen Lawrence), the wealthy attorney who would be only too happy if Charlotte ran off with him.
Moon Over Buffalo also sports the multiple doors that any decent farce requires (the dandy period backstage set is by David Torres), a key case of mistaken identity and a plot point — movie director Frank Capra is coming to see the show and just might cast George and Charlotte in his new movie The Twilight of the Scarlet Pimpernel — that sets all the fast-paced complications in motion.
Leeds and the actors, dressed in period (and theatrical) finery by costume designer Peter Lovello, load the production with all sorts of slapstick touches. Though physically he isn’t the dashing type, Clement masterfully delivers the humor, ego and honest regret that are George’s current lot in life. When a discouraged George leaps off the wagon, Clement plays the character’s increasingly drunken behavior as though he’s executing an intricately choreographed dance.
His cast mates are quite good, particularly Edelman as the now-I-hear-you, now-I-don’t Ethel; Quiroga as the still-besotted Paul, and the droll Lawrence as the dull but well-heeled lawyer.
After its long run in Coral Springs through Oct. 6, Moon Over Buffalo will move to Stage Door’s Miami Beach venue at the Byron Carlyle. Here’s hoping that audiences in both places will give in to the belly laughs that the show deserves. The actors certainly earn them.