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Review of Lucky Stiff at the Union Theatre

Lucky Stiff
Lucky Stiff

First things first: Lucky Stiff, or at least this production of it, is indeed the ‘musical comedy’ it says it is. The punchlines are there, as are the exaggerated, larger than life characters. In particular, there’s Rita La Porter (Natalie Moore-Williams) and Vincent Di Ruzzio (Tom Keeling). They are siblings; the former is registered blind and the latter is an optometrist, a bittersweet irony. The narrative does get rather absurd at times, but this is all part of the fun, and there’s enjoyment to be found in the ridiculousness and implausibility of some of the show’s events. In terms of dramatic genres, it’s within the parameters of what could be considered farce.

This is one of those shows that is very silly, and it knows it. The title of the opening number, ‘Something Funny’s Going On’, made me wonder if this was going to be ‘funny’ in the sense of being peculiar, or being a source of merriment. It ended up being both. The set is sparse, with moveable wooden frames acting as main doors, connecting doors and, at one point, telephone booths – the action of the show takes place before the ubiquity of mobile phones. I wonder how different the narrative might have been if smartphones were at the disposal of the characters – some of the humour relies on certain people not being fully aware of what is going on, as the latest information hasn’t been communicated to them at that point in the proceedings.

The uncluttered set is, in some ways, refreshing, and allows the focus to be on the performers and the dialogue. But while the likes of the Emcee (Daniel Urch) and entertainer Dominique Du Monaco (Lydia Marazzó) are speaking and singing about Monte Carlo and how wonderful it is, there’s a distinct lack of evidence that this is the busy and bustling casino and entertainment venue that the music and lyrics assert it is. There needn’t have been anything too expensive – a video projection of a roulette wheel would have sufficed, for instance.

A three-piece band, under the direction of Richard Baker, adds much to the jaunty atmosphere created in this production. It isn’t the easiest of scores to navigate, and the sound balance between musicians and performers is very good, with no frustration about not catching any lyrics. This is hugely beneficial in a show in which the musical numbers are used to move the story onwards.

In some respects, the storyline is quite basic, but the details and inclusion of random minor characters make things somewhat complicated in the second half. A number portraying some sort of nightmare scene, ‘Welcome Back, Mr Witherspoon’, came across as superfluous. On the other hand, the ‘I wish’ song, ‘Mr Witherspoon’s Friday Night’, is a pleasure to listen to. There’s also a sublime duet between the said Harry Witherspoon (Tom Elliot Reade) and Annabel Glick (Natasha Hoeberigs), ‘Nice’, an expression of misplaced hatred. I also enjoyed ‘Times Like This’, in which Annabel sings lovingly about the companionship a dog can bring a lady.

Probably most impressive is Ian McCurrach as Tony Hendon, who, for reasons clearly explained early on in the show, spends much of the performance playing dead. At just under two hours including an interval (which did make me think it could have run straight through), it’s not the longest of musical theatre shows, but it is entertaining and enthusiastic escapism.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon is stuck in a rut until, one day, he discovers he is to inherit his uncle’s fortune; but, there is a catch. To claim the inheritance Harry has to take his uncle’s body around the French Rivera for one last adventure! Chasing him for the same fortune are a dog lover from Brooklyn, a short-sighted Mafia Boss’ wife, and an optometrist. Add to that a host of other zany characters and you’ve got the recipe for a madcap evening.

Harry Witherspoon – Tom Elliot Reade
Annabel Glick – Natasha Hoeberigs
Rita La Porter – Natalie Moore-Williams
Vinnie Di Ruzzio – Tom Keeling
Luigi Gaudi – Jonathan Leinmuller
Tony Hendon – Ian McCurrach
Dominique Du Monaco/Ensemble – Lydia Marcazzo
Ensemble – Elizabeth Bright, Beth Clarence, Tom Mann, Blake Patrick Anderson, Daniel Urch

Director – Paul Callen
Musical Director – Richard Baker
Choreographer – Jamie Neale
Designer – Reuben Speed
Casting Director -Adam Braham
Production Photographer Scott Rylander

MUSIC BYStephen Flaherty
First produced by Playwrights Horizons Inc. Off-Broadway in 1988
Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited


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