Review: LUCKY STIFF: Loosey-goosey Fun For All

By: Sep. 13, 2016

Lucky Stiff

Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Based on "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" by Michael Butterworth; Directed by Caitlin Lowans, Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, Music Direction by Bethany Aiken; Scenic Design, Jon Savage; Costume Design, Tyler Kinney; Lighting Design, Jessica Krometis; Sound Designer & Engineer, John Stone; Sound Effects Designer, Andrew Duncan Will; Production Stage Manager, Rachel Policare; Assistant Stage Manager, Maegan Passafume

CAST (in alphabetical order): Andrew Barbato, Thomas Derrah, Mark Linehan, Lizzie Milanovich, Bryan Miner, John O'Neil, Samantha Richert, Stewart EVan Smith, Jr., Jade Wheeler, Ceit M. Zweil

Performances through September 25 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or

In spite of the fact that the leading man is a corpse, Stoneham Theatre has a lively hit on its hands with the Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical murder mystery farce, Lucky Stiff. Its a rom-com romp about a lackluster British shoe salesman who stands to inherit six million dollars from his recently deceased American uncle who he never met. There are unusual strings attached to the bequest, and the nephew gets a new lease on life while squiring the dead man around Monte Carlo in a wheelchair. Caitlin Lowans directs the madcap madness, with choreography by Ilyse Robbins.

Stoneham Theatre young company alumnus Andrew Barbato makes a triumphant return to the local stage in the role of Harry Witherspoon. With a veddy British accent and a full beard to enhance his gravitas, Barbato charms his way through Harry's incredible journey, displaying a range of emotions and impeccable comic timing. Harry goes from his dreary existence in the shoe shop to a wildly exciting adventure, yanking him from his comfort zone into a monied world of champagne, women, and danger, and Barbato has an appropriate facial expression for every step along the way.

One of the strings attached to Uncle Anthony's will is that the money will divert to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, his favorite charity, should Harry fail to comply with any of the conditions. Therefore, Annabel Glick (Lizzie Milanovich), a representative from the UDHB, follows Harry doggedly (sorry!), waiting for the slightest misstep so that she might collect the windfall for her beloved pooches. Barbato and Milanovich have great chemistry as their relationship evolves from adversarial to affectionate, and their duet acknowledging their friendship ("Nice") is sweetly sung.

Of course, any farce worth its salt must have more conflicts and comings and goings than that, so enter Uncle Anthony's ex-girlfriend Rita Laporta (Stoneham favorite Ceit M. Zweil) and her inept brother Vinnie DiRuzzio (Mark Linehan) who track Harry to Monte Carlo, hoping to get their hands on the money. Linehan is in his element and good for lots of laughs as Vinnie finds himself in way over his head, and Zweil is hysterical and nearly steals the show as the nearsighted, tough-talking, gun-toting Rita. She also gets a chance to showcase her vocal belt ("Fancy Meeting You Here"), just one of many fine voices in the ensemble.

Speaking of fine voices, while I don't want to give away a plot twist, there is one character that morphs into another after removing a disguise and he joins Rita for an almost operatic duet late in the second act. In fact, he was so well-disguised that I didn't realize it was Thomas Derrah playing the role until I had a chance to glance back at the cast list. As the nightclub emcee, Bryan Miner's dulcet tones are intoxicating, and Jade Wheeler (Dominique) is delicious as the club singer and humorous in several ensemble roles. Samantha Richert is spot on as the maid with the hidden flask and Harry's nosy landlady, and Stewart EVan Smith, Jr. is featured as the Solicitor who gleefully explains the terms of Uncle's will, and he also has a fun turn as a nun.

The silent partner in all of the mayhem is John O'Neil, billed as The Body. He only has to sit in the chair and be wheeled around by everybody, but he manages to emit a lot of personality with his erect posture and stoic expression. The irony is that O'Neil is a regular on the New England cabaret circuit, possessed of a beautiful, clear tenor, and dead men don't sing. At least he does join in on some of the musical numbers with the full company. Music Director Bethany Aiken (keyboards) and her bandmates Nick Francese (bass) and Mick Lewander (percussion) get some stage time as the house band in the nightclub scenes.

Scenic designer Jon Savage's set features row upon row of stacked-up cardboard boxes, pop-up doors, a slide-out bed, built-in nooks and crannies, and a brightly-painted ocean view. Jessica Krometis finds ways to light the myriad scenes to distinguish the shoe shop, a hotel room, the nightclub, and various locations, and Andrew Duncan Will's sound effects perfectly replicate slamming doors, doorbells, and train bells, and clearly amplify the tape recording of Uncle Anthony's instructions. Tyler Kinney's costumes are evocative of the 1980s, the era of the show. Initially, he wisely dresses Harry and Annabel in muted colors, reflecting their bland lives, but gives them more colorful garb when they cut loose in Monte Carlo. Uncle Anthony always wears something dapper, and both Rita and Dominique are poured into fancy duds for the club scene.

Lucky Stiff was the first collaboration for the team of Ahrens and Flaherty (Once On This Island, Ragtime, Seussical, among others), playing Off-Broadway in 1988 and in London's West End in 1997. It has not had a Broadway production, and spawned an unsuccessful film version in 2015. However, it fits nicely into the programming of a regional theater such as Stoneham where an ensemble of homegrown talent gets its chance to shine. They look like they're having a blast performing a fun show for an appreciative audience. You might say they're a bunch of lucky stiffs.

Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots (Thomas Derrah, Andrew Barbato, Lizzie Milanovich, Stewart EVan Smith, Jr., Ceit M. Zweil, Mark Linehan, Jade Wheeler)


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