Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Lucky Stiff
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Evita and Wicked

Seth Tucker, Tim Shawver and Trisha Hart Dirsworth
Wacky, zany, convoluted and charming are just a few adjectives to describe the quirky musical Lucky Stiff. Originally premiering Off Broadway in 1988, this show was the first collaboration of lyricist and book writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty who would later go on to write many well-known shows, including winning a Tony for their score for Ragtime. While Lucky Stiff isn't as near as accomplished a work as some of their later shows, it still results in a delightful musical with a few slapstick, farcical moments and some charming and witty songs. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production has a talented cast and confident direction by Evan Pappas, a man who has firm ties to both Flaherty and Ahrens, as well as this musical.

Based on Michael Butterworth's 1983 novel "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," the plot follows the quiet and unassuming English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon who discovers he is the heir to his Uncle Anthony's $6,000,000 fortune. The only hitch in getting his inheritance? Harry must take his uncle's preserved corpse on Anthony's long-desired vacation to Monte Carlo for a week, adhere to a set timetable of events and activities, and pass him off as alive. If Harry fails, the money goes to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, his uncle's favorite charity. Unbeknownst to Harry, also along for the journey are Harry's ex-mistress Rita, who may just have accidentally murdered him and, with her milquetoast optometrist brother Vinnie, is trying to recover the money Rita embezzled for Anthony, as well as Annabel Glick, a woman representing the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, who hopes that Harry makes a misstep in the schedule so the inheritance would go to the Dog Home. Complications, mistaken identity and hilarity ensue.

The score is smart, with clever lyrics and tuneful music, and features a nice range of songs including a sweet love duet for Harry and Annabel that ironically features charming lyrics about how nice it is to hate each other as well as some powerhouse numbers for Rita and a few numbers that highlight the ensemble. While the convoluted book includes several plot points that are never fully realized or clearly resolved, it does feature a bevy of comical characters and situations.

Director Evan Pappas starred as Harry in the first regional production of the show in 1989, played that part on the 1994 studio cast recording of the score and also starred as the male lead in Flaherty and Ahren's musical My Favorite Year, so he is well acquainted with the material as well as has worked directly with the composers in the past. He does a nice job in ensuring that his cast doesn't oversell the comic moments, guaranteeing the charm underneath the main characters isn't lost. And he also stages two superb moments in the second act —the farcical gem "Him, Them, It, Her" which is full of well-choreographed, non-stop slamming doors and "Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon," a hilarious nightmare sequence that features the entire cast.

Pappas also manages to get clear comical performances from his cast, including fine work from Seth Tucker and Trisha Hart Ditsworth, as Harry and Annabel, who both embody their parts with a combination of quirkiness and innocence under their assured exterior. They both have lovely, clear and strong singing voices with Ditsworth's warm voice delivering solidly on the nicely understated comical ballad "Times Like This."

With humorous body language, a thick New Jersey accent and even thicker glasses, Abigail Raye is comically delicious as the over the top, near-sighted Rita. Her big, powerful voice make Rita's songs soar with humorous flair. Leonardo Altafini is appropriately nebbish, mild-mannered yet high-strung when confronted as Vinnie and, like Raye, adds plenty of comic zing to his role. The ensemble features the big-voiced Heather Fallon who hilariously sends her solo number "Speaking French" to the rafters; Bobby Underwood as the flashy Italian man of mystery Luigi Gaudi; and John T. McAvaney, who plays several humorous roles. Also, Tim Shawver deserves special mention in his ability to play the dead body of Uncle Anthony with complete focus.

Creative elements are bright and fun with Kara Thomson's set design nicely expanding this originally very small show for the large ABT stage with a multi-functional Monte Carlo hotel set that works nicely to portray the many scenes in the hotel. Ashley Gamba's costumes are comical and character specific, including some great wigs and make-up designs from Amanda Gran. Mark 4Man's music direction is bright and bouncy.

Lucky Stiff has its flaws, but it is lively and fun, and ABT's production has skilled direction and a cast that throws themselves into their roles with gleeful abandonment.

Lucky Stiff runs through September 20th, 2015 at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 623 776-8400.

Stage Direction & Choreography by Evan Pappas
Music Direction: Mark 4Man
Set Design: Kara Thomson
Costume Design: Ashley Gamba
Lighting Design: William C. Kirkham
Sound Design: Joshua Tobin
Hair & Makeup Design: Amanda Gran
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake
Stage Management: Jamie Mann

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Harry Witherspoon: Seth Tucker*
Annabel Glick: Trisha Hart Ditsworth
Rita La Porta: Abigail Raye
Vincent (Vinnie) Di Ruzzio: Leonardo Altafini
Luigi Gaudi: Bobby Underwood
Dominique Du Monaco: Heather Fallon
The Dead Body of Uncle Anthony: Tim Shawver
Ensemble: Eugenio Contenti, Kat Bailes, John T. McAvaney, Heather Fallon

* Member of Actors' Equity Association

Photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix