Frank Kaye | 24 Sep 2018 10:42am
Friday night was gala night at Sedos’ performance of the Ahrens and Flaherty musical comedy Lucky Stiff. There was a party atmosphere before the lights went down and it continued throughout this riotous evening of fun. The designer and director, Roger Harwood, set a mood of childlike humour and farce presenting the audience with a green wall and four doors in primary colours – and paw prints on the stage! Black curtains either side gave cover to the exquisitely timed entrances of a wide range of primary coloured props. The band struck up and the cast arrived with a flourish and we were off on a crazy nonsensical journey of a man in a wheelchair ticking off his bucket list – post mortem!
The key to the success of this show is pace and timing along with acute characterisations of the main protagonists. We had that in spades especially in the first act. Jonathan Scott got our sympathy immediately as a disillusioned East Grinstead shoe salesman inheriting $6 million – but with an attendant set of ludicrous conditions. His costume and demeanour were perfect, and he was complemented by a similarly plainly dressed and diffident Miss Annabel Glick, his competitor for the inheritance. They were destined for future harmony, despite their antithetical views on dogs, and Jonathan and Penny Rodie’s singing voices achieved just that as the show progressed.
In harsh contrast was the murderous, pink-gun toting Rita, played by Deborah Lean, who sang with a power to dominate any man – notably the hapless brother, Vinny played with suitable angst by Daniel Paul. They both captured the accents and rhythms of New Jersey in the beautifully clearly sung Rita’s Confession and in The Phone Call, with that immortal line “Don’t hold the meatloaf, don’t toss the salad”, they got titters and laughs for every phrase.
So, to exotic Monte Carlo where Luigi, played by Stephen Beeny, provided a nicely crafted sense of place – which contrasted with his role in later events. He had wonderful timing in his big number, Confessions, in the second act.
The nightclub number was the highlight of the first act. The entrance of part of the orchestra as the back wall opened was greeted with applause. This magical moment raised the stakes for the orchestra for the rest of the show. The opening song was nicely done, and we were taught to speak French by a sultry and sensuously comic, Lani Calvert. The facial expressions and reactions of all the company throughout this scene showed the attention to detail of the director throughout.
Indeed, the company, playing various minor roles as well as providing a chorus and dance troop were excellent. The crisp and efficient choreography provided by Jane Saunders ensured that the dance routines enhanced the impact of the show. The lighting was spot on (see what I did there) as were the many sound effects – we all loved the champagne cork!
Of special mention was the scene with all the activities that the Lucky Stiff got to do – from parachuting to deep sea fishing. The inventiveness, timing, tableaux and lighting were brilliant and much appreciated by the audience.
The Lucky Stiff himself must be one of the most unusual parts in theatre. Angus Jacobs reprised a role he had done at Guildford School of Acting with riveting stillness – which made his movement, both dead and alive, all the more dramatic. The general handling of the wheelchair by all members of the cast was perfect.
The musical arrangement by MD Tim Nelson was superb. The keyboard work was excellent and followed the singers with sensitivity, and the brass and woodwind were a delight. The harmonies worked beautifully especially between Jonathan and Penny.
The first act was flawless and swept the audience off to their glass of fizz with a sense of joy and fun. The second act was fine, but it did not have the tautness of the first act. As it happens I was able to see an excellent “studio” production of the show at South Hill Park by BB Theatre Productions last night. Their second act was much tighter. The Sedos chase scene was a little over-indulgent perhaps overdoing the opportunity to use the farcical four doors of the set. That said this show was directed with “big show values” – it had colour, glamour, a powerful orchestra, very clever set design and beautifully contrasting performances between the brash Noo Jersee characters and the naïve central protagonists enveloped in the sensual delights of Monte Carlo.