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Cincinnati by Scott Cain


Lucky Stiff

Also see Scott's recent review of Falsettos

Lucky Stiff is one of those small, light, fun shows that play Off-Broadway and are then produced by community theaters and colleges with some regularity. This musical is of special interest, however, because it was the first commercial collaboration by current Broadway darlings Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics). The wonderful University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM), from which Mr. Flaherty is a graduate, presents the show as part of their Studio Series with great success.

Produced originally in 1988 at Playwrights Horizons, Lucky Stiff is a musical adaptation of the novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. The show follows the escapades of Harry Witherspoon, who will inherit six million dollars from his recently deceased uncle if he will take the stuffed corpse to Monte Carlo for the vacation that his Uncle Anthony never had. The meek young nephew must follow a strict set of instructions that include accompanying his preserved uncle in activities such as high-stakes gambling, sky diving, and scuba diving. Stolen jewels, secret identities, a love interest, and a lot of dogs also figure in the plot to complicate matters further. The musical is indeed fun and light-hearted, but mainly exists to produce its share of laughs and to show off the burgeoning talents of these (at the time) upcoming theater writers.

CCM has surely one of the very best college musical theater programs in the nation and have produced many successful performers currently working on the Great White Way. While many of the older students finished up their run in Grand Hotel last week, some of the younger ones were busy rehearsing Lucky Stiff. Though younger than most of those appearing in the Mainstage production, these performers are equally talented. John -Andrew Clark and Missy Matherne lead the wonderful cast which also includes Gabrielle Stravelli, Leo Nouham, Nick Belton, Kyle McDaniel, Jasmin Walker, Tory Ross (who is especially funny), Eric Yellin, and Neal Shrader. All of these future professionals possess strong pipes and deliver the very humorous lines and lyrics with precise comic timing.

CCM professor Richard Hess directs this production and leads his young performers quite effectively, capturing both the witty comedy and the tender moments of the musical fully. Mr. Hess also does surprisingly well using the performance space provided. The Studio Theatre seating was arranged in a modified theater in the round, with two sets of risers facing each other with only a narrow, elongated space left in between. With no permanent set or props (except for a large fold out mat), the action takes place within this area and on a staircase and raised area to the side of the audience. Though at times the performers were difficult to hear when facing away from one half of the audience or when positioned at the top of the raised section, Mr. Hess did well in blocking the ensemble to maximum effect within these limitations.

Musical Director Greg Anthony led an accomplished three-piece band that blended well with the fine singers. Students at CCM did excellent work with the production design. The simple, yet useful sets by Jason Curtis consisted of suspended pieces such as a bed and door frames which were dropped and raised to again make good use of the space, as well as tables and chairs on wheels that were easily transferred in and out by the performers. The costumes (Kimberly Ann Long), lighting (Elizabeth Zernechel), wigs and makeup (Lisa Weiss), choreography (Kurt Domoney) and sound (Andy Smith) were all appropriate and attractive.

Flaherty and Ahrens have combined to write the scores for Broadway musicals such as Once On This Island, My Favorite Year, Ragtime, and Seussical. If Lucky Stiff doesn't possess the refined craftsmanship of these shows, it does have some strong melodies ("Times Like These," Nice") and witty and funny lyrics ("Rita's Confession," "The Phone Call"). Shades of their future writings are evident throughout and it is interesting to see the promise of their partnership early in their career. The book is not deep in subject matter, but is fun and comical and has good pacing.

CCM again delivers top notch musical theater as usual with their production of the hilarious and tuneful Lucky Stiff. Performances were from March 8 - 10, 2001. Their next Studio Series production is of the Stephen Sondheim musical Saturday Night, with performances running April 26 - 28.

-- Scott Cain


Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule



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