BWW Reviews: LUCKY STIFF Will Make You Glad You're Alive
Two genres that don't always mix well are musical comedy and farce. If it's put together correctly, you get something joyous and funny like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. If not, then the comedy undercuts the songs and the songs slow down the jokes, and you end up with something that doesn't know what it wants to be.
Lucky Stiff is an early project by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist/librettist Lynn Ahrens, who went on to create Once on This Island, Ragtime, and the underrated A Man of No Importance. It's an odd mating of one of those twee English comedies that always seemed to feature Alec Guinness and a dorky 1980s comedy, specifically Weekend at Bernie's. Mousy shoe salesman Harry finds out that a long-lost uncle has left him six million dollars - on the condition that Harry take the corpse on a week's vacation to Monte Carlo. He's pursued by Annabelle, a straight-laced protector of dogs who stands to inherit the money if Harry doesn't fulfill his duties. Also on the track is Harry's girlfriend, Rita, who shot him in a jealous rage, and her brother Vinnie, an optometrist.
Broadway Rose does a wonderful job of making this bumpy show run smoothly. The opening scenes, where we meet Harry and he finds out about his uncle's bequest, are clunkily written, and the talented ensemble is stuck in bit parts, playing characters we're not going to see again. But Harry is immensely likable, and once he arrives in Monte Carlo with Uncle Harry in a wheelchair, we're hooked. The songs are catchy, particularly "Good to Be Alive," which is repeated a couple of times and will definitely get stuck in your head.
Robert Winstead as Harry is just about perfect. We see his dull life selling shoes and immediately we're rooting for something nice to happen to him. He blossoms slowly in Monte Carlo, gradually putting a little more color in Harry's personality as he has to deal with the farcical and dangerous complications of the plot. I can't imagine another actor pulling off the delicate combination of comedy, sweetness, intelligence, and tenderness - not to mention a terrific voice - that this role requires.
Ecaterina Lynn plays Annabel, the defender of the canine set, as a very buttoned-up woman with no sense of humor, which is very funny. When she finally sings about her dream date, in "Times Like This," her description is hilarious - and perfectly in character. She's got a phenomenal voice, too, and I wish her character had come into the story a little earlier just so we could have spent more time with her.
Amy Jo Halliday is terrifically funny as the vengeful Rita, and it's great to see her smile after her two most recent roles as very unhappy people (Maria Callas and Grizabella); she's got a great knack for comedy, and her wronged character looks and sounds like a fugitive from one of those Real Housewives shows - most likely New Jersey. William Shindler as her brother doesn't have as many funny moments, and comedy doesn't seem to come naturally to him, but he makes the most of his one good song.
The ensemble (Bobby Jackson, Darren Hurley, Annie Kaiser, Tim Smith, and Catherine Bridge) are all terrific, filling their multiple roles with panache and energy. They sing and dance with skill and jump in and out of costumes and characters at the drop of a hat, and each of them gets some moments to shine. And kudos have to go to Daivd Smidebush as the late Uncle Tony, who sits in that wheelchair all night long (well, almost) and never breaks a smile.
Broadway Rose and director Dan Murphy have chosen to stage Lucky Stiff in a cartoonish style - and I hasten to add that I mean that as a compliment. Set designer Chris Whitten has created a series of cardboard cutouts that give a lighthearted flair to the scenes, and add to the non-realistic style of the show. Costume designer Allison Dawe has given the characters outfits that define and embellish their characters. Her designs for Rita are especially perfect, fitting the character's outsize gaudiness without overdoing it. (And thank heaven she doesn't overdo the 1980s cliches!) The designers really outdo themselves in an Act Two dream sequence involving dogs, guns, and tap dancing.