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Review: LUCKY STIFF at NextStop Theatre Company

A merry mix of mayhem and misadventure

Review: LUCKY STIFF at NextStop Theatre Company
L-R Ben Ribler, James Mernin, and Sally Imbriano
in the NextStop Theatre Company production of Lucky Stiff.
Photo courtesy of the production.

A corpse, dogs, a heart-shaped box, and diamonds are just a few of the plot ingredients in the merry mix of mayhem and misadventure in the zany musical Lucky Stiff now being presented at the NextStop Theatre Company. An audaciously frenetic and chaotic sense of impending disaster fills the air as a series of coincidences, mistaken identities and misconstrued intentions all collide and converge in this witty and hilarious book by Lynn Ahrens. The race to see who collects millions is the incentive for an engaging group of whacky yet endearing characters.

This initial effort by the songwriting team of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) has retained its luster and is the flame that keeps this wildly exuberant show moving along at such a brisk clip. Mr. Flaherty and Ms. Ahrens also wrote the scores of the popular Broadway shows Once on this Island, Ragtime, and Seussical. The driving force of these melodies and the catchy lyrics envelop the antics on stage with wit and they advance the chaotic tone of the storyline.

There is a bit of the outrageous spirit of the classic Broadway shows Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Producers in this uniquely distinctive comic musical, yet this wonderful musical exists in its own successful and distinct stratosphere. The flavor of the show is much like classic farce as doors are slammed and characters chase one another. The opening number of Act One and Act Two entitled "Something Funny's Going on" sets up the ensuing mirth just as "Comedy Tonight" sets up the action in Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

As the musical develops, Director and Choreographer Robert Mintz expertly moves this deft ensemble with expert guidance and comic pacing. As the greedy characters converge in Monte Carlo to hopefully gain a fortune, there are complications galore and Mr. Mintz stages intimate scenes as well as larger ensemble scenes with equal aplomb. Particularly noteworthy is the clever staging of "Him, Them, It, Her" and the nightmarish zeal of the almost surrealistic "Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon".

The anchor of this talented cast is Ben Ribler as the central character, Harry Witherspoon. Mr. Ribler commands the stage while, concurrently, subtly portraying a somewhat timid soul who evolves into an impassioned man. Mr. Ribler dances with style and he has an engaging and natural comic flair. Mr. Ribler exuded just the right mixture of bewilderment and knowingness in the delightful song "A Woman in my Bathroom".

The engaging character of Annabel Glick, the plainspoken representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, was given a fascinating interpretation by Sally Imbriano. Ms. Imbriano shone in the intriguing "Times Like This" and in her duet with Mr. Ribler entitled "Nice".

Candice Shedd-Thompson as the tempestuous Rita LaPorta excelled in quick comic delivery and she sang a wonderful rendition of "Fancy Meeting You Here".

Chris Ruddy as Vinnie DiRuzzio, Rita's mild-mannered brother, delivered a masterclass in physical comedy in the hilarious "The Phone Call".

Sydney Johnson as the alluring French nightclub singer Dominique duMonaco performed with charisma and command of precise timing while singing the amusing send-up of entertainers entitled "Speaking French".

Michael Reid, Chris Rios, James Mernin, Carolyn Burke, and Allison Bradbury all added immeasurably to the success of this musical exercise in merriment.

Patrick Payne (ensemble swing) played the role of the bellhop with an exaggerated and heightened comic effect appropriate for farce. (Mr. Payne was filling in for Mr. Jeremy Crawford the evening that I attended).

Music Direction by Lucia Lanave was top-notch as was Sound Design by Evan Hoffmann. The musicians involved were given sustained applause at the conclusion of the show.

Scenic Design by Jack Golden is nicely sleek and spare, and this approach worked well as the stage could serve several purposes. The stage was efficiently and creatively utilized by transforming seamlessly into a hotel room and a nightclub setting.

Lighting Consultant Helen Garcia -Alton filled the stage with distinctive lighting. It was an innovative idea to have the lighting strips around the doors change colors as the moods of the musical changed.

Costume Design by Jessica Utz was very apt for the mood of the musical.

Kudos to the NextStop Theatre Company for an exciting and entertaining musical treat to savor. Pure euphoric bliss awaits.

Running Time: Two Hours with one intermission

Lucky Stiff was presented on May 21, 2022 at 8pm at the NextStop Theatre Company located at 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, Virginia 20170. Lucky Stiff runs from May 19, 2022 through June 12, 2022. For tickets, click here.

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From This Author - David Friscic