When Masquerade Theatre director, Phillip Duggins stepped in front of the curtain last Friday evening to greet the Opening Night audience of “Lucky Stiff,” he broke all records for understatement when he quipped, “This is one of those crazy shows where you’re not sure what’s going on half the time.” That is not to say a good time would not be had by all. Advertised as a “zany murder mystery musical,” I would have to put the emphasis on zany. But theatergoers looking for a lighthearted comedy romp with plenty of laughs will not be disappointed.
With the music of Stephen Flaherty, and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the show is based on “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” by Michael Butterworth. The end result is a nutty musical comedy with an equally nutty cast of characters, and therein lie the laughs-a-plenty. Consider the nerdy central figure of young shoe salesman, Harry Witherspoon. (Humorously played by Brad Scarborough, looking very much like Clark Kent of “Superman” fame.) Hapless Harry receives the stunning news that his Uncle Tony (an uncle Harry never knew he had) has passed away and left six million dollars in diamonds to Harry. Ahhh,– but there is a catch. To qualify, Harry must help his late Uncle Tony (a motionless and skillfully “dead” Russell Freeman being rolled about the stage in a wheelchair for two hours) to posthumously enjoy the Monte Carlo vacation he had always dreamed of. Sound crazy? You bet, but director Duggins had warned us about that. To add to the fun Harry must forfeit his fortune to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn if he fails to fulfill his late Uncle’s pre-planned vacation itinerary to the letter. (Following the dog theme, Duggins has cleverly invited SPCA representatives to bring some sample pups, and man their public information tables in the theater lobby before the show and during intermission.)
Enter dog home representative, Annabel Glick, (Allison Sumrall), who tails Harry in hopes he will somehow disqualify himself during this Monte Carlo journey. Miss Sumrall demonstrates a keen sense of comic timing that produces many belly laughs, especially in the bedroom scene with Harry. But the laughs are not all hers. Consider the case of Rita La Porta (Rebekah Dahl), a gangland-style dame whose husband owns a casino. The legally blind Rita thinks she accidentally shot her lover, Tony, while aiming at what she thought was “the other woman” in his life. Sound complicated? And How! Dahl has many uproarious moments to shriek and flail about wildly with a gun in her hand. Her wiry body language adds to the fun, and she uses her soaring voice and talent for comedy to great advantage during the hilarious “Fancy Meeting You Here.” Sam Brown does an amusing turn as Rita’s optometrist brother, Vinnie. Don’t miss their hilarious airplane flight across the stage as they head for Monte Carlo and all the shenanigans that follow in the hotel and casino. And those shenanigans would not be complete without some fine comic moments from John Gremillion as Luigi. Michael J. Ross does a great job as the showroom Emcee in the thrashing “Monte Carlo” song, and doubles the fun in a later drunken reprise of that number. And speaking of the showroom, scene-stealer, Libby Evans, offers a highlight as sassy showgirl, Dominique, when she explodes onstage for the racy camp of “I Love French.” That number was a knockout!
On a sweeter note we have the charming and melodic, “At Times Like This” from Miss Sumrall. She can vocalize beautifully from a near whisper to torch song power, and dog lovers will not want to miss this number. Just as sweet is her bedroom duet of “Nice,” with Harry. The full company (choreography, Michelle Macicek) would shine in numbers like the pulsing opener of “Something Funny’s Going On,” which reminded me a bit of “A Chorus Line.” There are other treats, like Harry’s nightmare, and the train ride scene. (Set design by Mr. Freeman). There are also some forgettable songs, and a second act that seemed a bit too convoluted and long. But overall, if you can slip into the flow of this delightful nonsense, you should be in for a fun-filled ride.
“Lucky Stiff” will be performed April 4th and 5th at 8 PM, and April 6th at 2PM in the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall. Tickets are $30 – $50 with $10 off for seniors and students. For tickets and information call 713-315-2525 or visit www.masqueradetheatre.com.