Americana Theatre's "Lucky Stiff": Weekend at Tony's?

Ahrens & Flaherty's premiere musical "Lucky Stiff"
(photo: Americana Theatre Company)

From the creative team that brought you A Man of No Importance, Once on this Island, Anastasia and perhaps especially Ragtime, comes the farce musical by the witty name of Lucky Stiff, which happens to be the first musical collaboration ever by the since-successful team of Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music). Based on the 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth, it was produced off-Broadway in 1988 by Playwrights Horizon, where it lasted fifteen performances, subsequently produced in London's West End and revised as a film. Critics at the time remarked at how promising the fledgling work was, expecting great things from the duo in the future, which indeed came to pass. With a score that includes almost two dozen numbers (including reprises), it has come to be embraced by theater companies throughout the country. This latest Americana Theatre production at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth (through July 22) finally brings the opportunity for local theatergoers to experience this seminal work, which takes place in the present in England, Atlantic City and Monte Carlo.

Think of it as “Weekend at Bernie's, the Musical”, if you like. (That film opened a year later than this musical, in case you were wondering who had the idea first). The story concerns the plight of one shy English shoe salesman, Henry Witherspoon by name (Jessie M. Sullivan), living in an East Grinsted boarding house bursting with colorful characters and a herd of dogs. (Henry hates dogs). The landlady (Erin Friday) and her other boarders intercept a telegram meant for Henry which informs him he's about to inherit six million dollars from his recently deceased Uncle Tony (Brigdon York), a casino croupier, with a catch. Henry learns from his solicitor (Brian Kenerson) that in order to collect, he must (successfully) take his Uncle Tony's corpse to his dream destination, Monte Carlo, for a week, or the fortune will revert to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, represented by Annabel Glick (Katie Johangten). His landlady and fellow boarders have other ideas, from the deceased's nearsighted girlfriend Rita La Porta (Hannah Jo Weisberg) to her mild-mannered henpecked brother Vinnie Di Ruzzio (Derek G. Martin), an optometrist, as well as a seductive nightclub chanteuse named Dominique du Monaco (Jennifer Martin), a would-be guide, Luigi Gaudi (David Friday) and Nick Hancock in multiple roles. Plot twists ensue.

Fortunately for you the reader, space considerations rule out a more comprehensive synopsis of the plot twists and turns, which would be stultifying, and best seen in person. As in all such complicated capers, all's well and ends well, more or less. As Directed by Brance Cornelius, the company performs at breakneck pace, accompanied by pianist Nicole Sjolin (the Music Director is Nancy Sparklin), with suave yet simple work by Choreographer Derek G. Martin, clever and versatile Set Design by David Friday, colorful and creative Costume Design by Brian Kenerson, and some really brilliant props (Props Master is Erin Friday) including an umbrella roulette wheel (which you'll have to see to appreciate).

The work by Ahrens and Flaherty is fundamentally a one joke premise, with often cute, if too predictable, lyrics and a score that is mostly musical recitative rather than a series of melodies though two songs, “Times Like This” and “Nice”, stand out. There's an inside joke about a Mr. Butterworth (the author of the source novel), and timing that clearly shows this cast was extraordinarily well rehearsed, and one might question whether these talented artists need miking in such a relatively compact venue. While they're uniformly memorable, one should note the chemistry between Sullivan and Johangten, the smooth movement by Kenerson and the sultry singing by Jennifer Martin. All made for a fun summer evening with some a-Spiring future stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment