If you are a fan of Ragtime, Anastasia (the film), Seussical, and Once on This Island, you may not know that writing team Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music) wrote a 1988 musical called Lucky Stiff – a sort of pre-Weekend at Bernie’s set to music, based on. It opened at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway in 1988 and critics and theatre fans took notice that this was a team to be reckoned with. And with a Tony Award win for their score for Ragtime, Ahrens and Flaherty were the toast of Broadway. I hear their score for their Broadway-bound Rocky The Musical is a real knockout!
I am so thrilled that Montgomery College produced a fabulously entertaining production of Lucky Stiff. Filled with promising young performers the show is directed by Bobby Smith, one of my favorite local performers, who can wring a laugh out of everything he touches. Not only is Smith a great singer and dancer but he is also a fantastic director. His genius lights up the stage. You can see his influence in the staging and performances of his young ‘stars.’
Harry Witherspoon (the adorable and endearing Liam Allen) is a seller of ‘soles’ who has a chance to inherit $6,000,000 from his late uncle (Olavi Takala – one of the most talented ‘stiffs’ I have had the pleasure of seeing on the stage), but the only way he’ll get the money is to perform everything that the uncle has instructed him to do on a tape that he has recorded for him. That’s where the lunacy begins with the ‘stiff’ coming along on an oversees trip.
There is an ‘out of site’ performance by the vocally astounding Awa Sal Secka as Rita (named one of the Best Scene Stealers of 2012 by DC Metro Theater Arts’ writers), who thinks she may have had something to do with causing Tony’s demise, and plots with her scheming brother Vinnie (a very annoyed Jacob Meile) to get the money. And they all have to deal with another ‘inheritor’ – the outrageous Aurora Beckett (a bubbly yet tough Annabel Glick) who ‘hounds’ Harry because she feels she was promised Tony’s fortune for his favorite charity – the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn.
There are so many highlights that if I listed them all this would be the longest review I have ever written. Suffice to say that this is a cast made in heaven, and I will never forget the abundant chemistry and great comic timing they shared on the stage.
The singing by everyone in the cast was superb. My favorites were Awa Sal Secka’s outrageous performance of “Fancy Meeting You Here” Liam Allen’s sweet performances of ‘Lucky,’ and “A Woman in My Bathroom,” Aurora Beckett’s heart-warming and canine-yearning “Times Like This,” and Christina Shield’s merveilleux vocals and grinding during “Speaking French.’
Musical Director/Conductor and keyboardist Dr. Jay Crowder and his terrific band of musicians: Danny Villanueva (Drums), Frank Higgins (Bass), and George Hummel (Reeds), played the heck out of Ahrens and Flaherty’s score and their work with the cast was exemplary.
Elizabeth McFadden’s clever set design included a revolving bed, some huge dice, a roulette wheel, and a large fish that got one of the largest laughs of the afternoon. I loved that the set pieces glided off the stage quickly without halting the pace and momentum of the show. The sound design by Eric Brown was terrific – you could hear every word and every note and every sound effect clearly, and Lynn Joslyn’s contribute some beautiful lighting.
With the clever direction by Bobby Smith and stunning performances by these multi-talented young performers – Lucky Stiff is one of my favorite two musicals (The Elden Street Players’ Caroline, or Change being the other) I have seen all year. It’s a shame it had such a short run! How lucky for me that I had the honor of seeing Montgomery College’s fabulously entertaining production of Lucky Stiff today.
Running Time: One Hour and 45 minutes, including one intermission.
Lucky Stiff played through today – Sunday, October 13th, 2013 at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD.