Although The Solid Gold Cadillac opens with a scene in which oversized executive salaries scandalize a stockholder, the heart of this fairy tale lies in its adherence to the formulas of Broadway, rather than in its indictment of the schemes of Wall Street. The result is a show that, though it may not solve the current debt crisis, nevertheless provides what a summertime audience craves—classic screwball comedy and delicious wisecracks, all delivered with style and verve by a cast that clearly understands and appreciates the craft of playwrights George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann. At the center of it all is the gadfly, Mrs. Laura Partridge, a star turn for the charming Linda MacNeal. Mrs. Partridge asks some importunate questions at the shareholders’ meeting, and they land her on the inside of the recently shaken-up General Products Corporation when its sleazeball president, T. John Blessington (Tom Hinshaw), decides that’s the best way to keep her quiet. Good plan, boss.
Blessington and his cronies—Alfred Metcalfe (Leo Postel), Warren Gillie (Bob Blackford), and Clifford Snell (Sean Jackson)—have recently taken control of the company and are clearly at a loss about how to run it successfully in the absence of Edward L. McKeever (Rich Hoag), the business genius and man of the world who started it. It seems McKeever has gone to Washington and thus far failed to deliver the fat government contracts upon which GP Corp. depends. When the hapless crooks in New York decide to send Mrs. Partridge to Washington to lobby McKeever, sparks fly between the crafty older woman and the high-powered corporate mogul.
Hoag and MacNeal are having a blast cruising in this Cadillac, and they’re happy to take the audience along with them. Playing a pair of eccentrics in the grand tradition of Jimmy Stewart and Judy Holliday, they create an atmosphere in which it feels like anything could happen. As McKeever, Hoag performs a wacky recitation, “Spartacus to the gladiators,” that’s one of the funniest bits onstage this year. Adding to the charm of Cadillac’s fantasy world are Jessica Spaw and Richard Lonsbury as the young lovers, Amelia Shotgraven and Mark Jenkins, who assist the righteous rebels as they do battle with the forces of corporate corruption. In another key supporting role, Heather Johnson portrays Miss L’Arriere, the advertising model companion of Hinshaw’s character Blessington.
The devices through which McKeever and Mrs. Partridge restore order to General Products don’t matter as much as the wisecracks they make while doing it. There’s some business involving proxy votes and shareholders, but the trajectory is clear from the beginning, and the excitement is in watching how a strong group of inventive actors gets there. Hoag and MacNeal make a great team, and although a subplot involving their spending a night together in a hotel in Philadelphia seems gratuitous at first, by the end of the night the romantic-comedy aspect has come into focus, as well. In addition to offering audiences an opportunity to revel in the sure-handed stagecraft of two veteran writers (Teichmann was later to become an executive with the Shubert organization, and wrote several excellent biographies, including one of Kaufman), The Solid Gold Cadillac does Santa Barbara the great service of bringing Linda MacNeal into the spotlight. The Laura Partridge role is a complex one—although the character is naïve in many ways, she’s also a streetwise actress who has appeared in many shows, and she injects the proceedings with knowing backstage-style observations that give it a quirky sizzle. Congratulations to director Katie Laris and the rest of her team at SBCC for finding the material and matching it so effectively to the talent.