Review – Lucky Stiff

Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty – Gallery Players – Sir John Mills Theatre till 3rd November

A musical about a lonely shoe salesman who is left a fortune in his uncle’s will but with the proviso he won’t get it unless he takes the corpse to Monte Carlo for a week of revelling? So far, so mad. But this is typical of the type of quirky, little known production that Gallery do best – and with Eastern Angles Jon Tavener at the helm, and a collection of experienced, top notch local amateurs on stage – this was a night to savour and enjoy.

Tony Award-winning writing team, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s first produced show premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1988.

Based on the 1983 novel, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth, Lucky Stiff is described as an ‘offbeat, hilarious, murder mystery farce, complete with mistaken identities, six million bucks in diamonds and a corpse in a wheelchair’.

The story revolves around an unassuming English shoe salesman from East Grinstead whose life is extremely uneventful until he discovers he is the sole beneficiary to his American Uncle’s will. However – there is a catch. He must take the embalmed body of his Uncle Anthony on a holiday to Monte Carlo for one last fling at the casino tables. Should he succeed in following his uncle’s stringent requirements to the letter – all contained on tape recordings – Harry Witherspoon stands to inherit $6,000,000. If not, the money goes to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. To make matters worse his uncle’s gun-toting ex is also after the money and will do anything to get her hands on it again – including a second murder!

Director Jon makes a superb job of fitting a large cast of ten plus all singing and dancing numbers onto the compact Sir John Mills stage. Paul Stone plays Harry with a wide eyed hopelessness that endears you to the character and makes you route for him from the word go. Zoe Jones plays the thorn in his side, Miss Glick from the dogs home – following him everywhere in the hope of catching him out and winning the money for her canine cause. Their scenes together were very believable with nice comic timing and their voices harmonized well in their duets.

They are in turn perused by Uncle Anthony’s ex Rita – a strong portrayal by Stephanie Brown, who with Phil Cory as her dentist brother Vinnie, made the most of their comic roles.

The rest of the cast played multiple parts – slickly changing scene from a train carriage to the hotel lobby and on to a casino with barely a hitch.

As the play progresses and the situation becomes more farcical the pace kept up and the cast worked well as a team to keep the action going and the humour fresh.

Dave Borthwick’s clever set was very adaptable and worked well, and I especially liked the projections above which helped to place each scene and at times add to the humour.

Mention should be made of Darren Prentice who had the very difficult job of playing the corpse and did so without putting an embalmed foot wrong. And musical director Emma Haggar who got the best out of the mixed vocal ability of the cast.

This is a well directed, well performed, unusual but hilarious production that didn’t give you time to be bored or lose interest.

Even if musicals aren’t really your cup of tea I would urge you to go and see it – for an enjoyable and entertaining evening with some very talented people.

Suzanne Hawkes

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