Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Drama Board’s mainstage show, the musical “Lucky Stiff,” directed by Laura Holzman and produced by Phil Katz, opened in LPAC last night. Though a late replacement for “Little Shop of Horrors,” the show is anything but a disappointment, and its obscurity makes it all the more the unexpected delight.
A very silly farce/noir/romantic comedy by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (the creators of “Ragtime”), the show centers around Harry Witherspoon (Evan Buxbaum), a mild-mannered English shoe salesman who finds his life a little dull. No sooner do we meet him than it is shaken up: his uncle, an Atlantic City casino owner, has died and left him a very unusual request.
Harry ends up in Monte Carlo, with the taxidermied body of his uncle (the lucky stiff of the title, embodied by Bill Welsh) and a very strict set of instructions to follow. If he succeeds, he will inherit millions. If he fails his uncle’s directions, the money goes to a dog home, who has helpfully sent Annabel Glick (Cara Arcuni) to make sure that Harry does as his uncle wished. Meanwhile, his uncle’s lover (Amanda Vacharat) and her brother (Scott Birney) are on his trail, too.
Weird? Well, yes. But the show’s true strangeness, and its best moments, come from its panoply of supporting characters, played by the versatile ensemble of Anne Kolker, Judy Browngoehl, Alex Lerner, Sasha Shahidi, and Erik Saka. Their characters range from a drunken maid to a nun to a leper to, most memorably, a nightclub singer (a showstopping turn by Browngoehl), and, with Susan Smyth’s costumes, give us most of the musical’s funniest and most vivid moments. The leading characters initially seem to be rather dull in comparison, but grow more interesting as the show progresses.
The show doesn’t really make much sense, nor does it pretend to have any deep meaning, but it is most entertaining when it throws its (admittedly silly) plot to the wind and takes off with its characters. The music is tuneful, relatively catchy, and excellently sung, particularly by Buxbaum and Arcuni, aided by Charles Coes’s subtle sound design. Mark Loria conducts the small pit band, including unusual instruments such as a soprano sax and a bass clarinet.
Caitlin Butler’s set has to suggest a large number of locations in quick succession, and mostly does so admirably with the exception of a few confusing bits at the start of the show. Peter Gardner’s lighting design cuts the huge LPAC stage down to an appropriate size for this intimate show, though one wishes it could have been performed in a smaller space.
Holzman keeps the show moving at an appropriately madcap pace, finding the show’s sweet moments as well as its funny ones. It’s a great chance to see this overlooked show, and should not be missed.