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posted/updated: 07 Nov 2014 - edit review / upload photos
Lucky Stiff
Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty.
society/company: Renegade Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 06 Nov 2014
venue: 11 Duke Street Theatre, Duke Street, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP13 6EE
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

Above: Rehearsal photo

Something Funny’s Going On…at the brand new 11 Duke Street Theatre, High Wycombe.

Lucky Stiff is a ‘musical farce’ based on a 1949 film. It was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (who went on to notable success with Ragtime and Seussical) and premiered in 1988. After a very short run off Broadway it went on to have some success in the USA before it was seen in the West End in 1997 and since then it appears to have been forgotten.

Harry Witherspoon is shoe salesman in East Grinstead. He hates his job and his dull life but his world is turned upside down when he is told he has the possibility of a $6 million legacy from his Uncle Anthony, a professional gambler from Atlantic City, who has died in a shooting incident. All very straightforward – until Harry is introduced to Uncle Anthony, sitting in a wheelchair, preserved by taxidermy. Further, the condition of the will is that Harry has to help Uncle Anthony realise his life’s dream by taking him to Monte Carlo in order to ‘see’ all the sights, including, of course, the casino. But if he fails in this task the inheritance (in the form of a heartshaped box of diamonds) will go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn.

Add in the eagle-eyed workaholic representative of the Dog’s Home, sent to check that Harry is doing exactly what he has to do and Anthony’s jealous lover (whose myopia caused her ‘warning shot’ to be the one that killed him) and her long-suffering geeky optician brother who she implicates in the murder then (much to his consternation) ropes him in to help her retrieve the diamonds. Add a myriad of other characters – this was done as an ensemble piece writ large – together with a dog and, of course, Uncle Anthony, and a great show ensues.

Having made this bold and original choice Renegade and its young cast did this very funny and highly entertaining show proud.

All 23 performers in this ensemble piece deserve great credit.

Singing –especially from the chorus - was good and there were some nice characterisations from many of the cast. Diction was also good and the accents (English, French and American) maintained well. I thought some of the dance numbers were a little untidy – maybe caused because of the number of people on the long but narrow stage, possibly because at times things got a little too frenetic – but that said, still hugely enjoyable.

For me the outstanding performers were Claire Deards as Annabel Glick, the Dogs Home sleuth who watches Harry’s every move – confident acting and a lovely, strong singing voice. Christopher Bennett as the optician Vinnie and Olivia Kinghorn as his far more worldly sister Rita La Porta made an excellent double act, really getting into their very different but complementary roles. Nicole Lily Baisden sparkled as night club star Nicole Du Monaco and a host of other actors (Joanna Cunningham, Adam Lipinski, Sarah Favager, Hollie Palethorpe, Grace Willis, Joe Carter) presented entertaining cameos. There was also a strong performance by Alex Parker as Luigi. Ethan Piercey struck just the right note as the put-upon hero of the show, Harry Witherspoon. And, of course, Joe Eason, who played Uncle Anthony with considerable aplomb – yes, acting was involved!

Sometimes youth theatre is disappointing because, however talented the young people are (maybe, in fact, because they are so talented that the hope is that this will paper over any cracks in the show) the performers do not have the support they need and deserve.

In this show the actors were able to shine as they did because of the hard work of the production team who provided a professional setting for them to excel in.

That the show was so crisp and energetic owes a great deal to director/choreographers Chloe James and Samuel Parker. The set amounted to a totally empty stage with five doorways and doors at its top end. (Two doors had small windows on top of them which were used to great comic effect when Vinnie and Rita fly to France.) Everything else was down to props and small items of furniture which were taken on and off as needed. Imaginative and clever, it worked superbly.

I am told that the score was reworked by musical director Jerome van den Berghe – it was excellent, as was the five piece band which played it. Depressingly, even professional shows can be ruined by a competition between the voices of the performers and an orchestra which is simply too loud. Sound designer Kyle Sepede got it just right, as did Toby Darvill’s lighting.

There were lots of costumes – and quick costume changes (including a clever quick change onstage for Nicole Du Monaco) - and for that Julia and Anna Saunders are to be heartily congratulated.

It really is a puzzle that this show is not seen more. It has a zany set-up, a funny script and smashing songs.

With a cadaver almost permanently onstage, perhaps in 1988 Lucky Stiff was still a bit of a ‘shocker’. But with a huge hit comic musical about Mormons in an AIDS-stricken village in Africa, the wonderful Urinetown, centred on a public toilet and asking questions about capitalism and the future of the planet and the tale of Faust being played out in the ultimately sinister dark comedy Little Shop of Horrors, it may be time to have a look at it again.

Lucky Stiff is certainly a show that am-dram companies should consider.

Below: Rehearsal photo

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