The idea of a woman passionately pleading with a man wheeling his uncle’s corpse around in a wheelchair, singing to him on behalf of all the mistreated dogs in Brooklyn whilst in the middle of a high-speed, high-stakes chase for six million dollars is, perhaps, why many people tend to label musical theater as “unrealistic.” But thankfully, seemingly on behalf of theatergoers who are looking for an old-fashioned, madcap night of pure fun, Lucky Stiff makes a scene so ludicrous the mere tip of the iceberg.
Lucky Stiff, a musical comedy by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty showing now through June 12 at NextStop Theatre in Herndon, could, more or less, be titled “Weekend at Bernie’s the Musical,” but it’s a much more amusing and outlandish take on the concept. The action centers on an average, young shoe salesman, Harry, whose Uncle Anthony leaves him an unexpected fortune. Of course, there’s a caveat. Harry can claim the money only if he takes the already dead Uncle Anthony on one last trip to Monte Carlo. Beyond those basics, the show is difficult to describe. A central, dominant component of the humor is having a wonderfully excessive amount of plot and exposition going on at all times, which makes it difficult to name each throughline or even character that plays a vital role. Many parts are best left a surprise, but every ounce of this abundance fits in a neat two-hour runtime including intermission, a particularly impressive feat when thinking about the numerous and ridiculous escapades at the heart of the production.
Every zany hijink is framed by technical elements that add to the overall tone of silliness and fun. Lighting design (Helen Garcia-Alton) is flashy, innovative, and practical all at once. Colors light up the many door frames on the stage, and shadows are used often to underscore the larger-than-life farcical plot of the show. Scenic design (Jack Golden) is practical, with set pieces reappearing in new forms and functions, allowing us to imagine the ever-changing landscape of Monte Carlo as Harry and Uncle Anthony maneuver through holiday frivolity. The technical star of the show, though, is the sound design (Evan Hoffman), which is not only expertly curated but so perfectly timed with the action of the show that I had a difficult time believing each effect wasn’t just happening organically.
Lucky Stiff’s cast too is, in one word, fabulous. Directed and choreographed by Robert Mintz, each actor does an outstanding job of creating campy characters, so much so that the ridiculous plot, in their hands, is both clear and believable. Ben Ribler is endearing and bumbling as protagonist Harry Witherspoon, while Candice Shedd-Thompson leads the more histrionic charge as Rita La Porta. Shedd-Thompson is absolutely superb in each over-the-top gesture and absurd line, with incredibly precise vocals to boot. She’s a complete scene-stealer. Sally Imbriano is also lovely as Annabel Glick, the show’s ingenue. Imbriano brings a stunning vocal range, but she also brings great timing and an earnestness to her character’s more absurd moments that made me wish she had more to do comedically. Of course, the ensemble absolutely shines, particularly by Patrick Payne, whose Bellhop is just perfectly executed from his physical comedy to delivery. The show wouldn’t be complete without their crisp, sharp vocal work (major credit to Lucia Lanave, music director), but it is made delightful by the life and vivacity they bring to the stage.
This is the basis for Lucky Stiff’s appeal, and why it proved to be such an enjoyable piece of theater. The show itself, while wonderfully absurd, is nothing particularly remarkable, but with a cast of characters giving everything, embracing the spectacle of it all with heartfelt conviction, it becomes a hilarious, engaging portrait of exaggerated musical theater. The kind of musical theater where the melodramatic partners with humor so that there’s just one goal: to entertain. And Lucky Stiff delivers. This isn’t a show to go back to, ponder, and discuss when you get in the car, but I promise you’ll be singing all the way home.
Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
COVID Safety: All patrons must be fully vaccinated and wear a mask to attend performances. NextStop’s COVID Patron Safety Policies are here.
By Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Directed and choreographed by Robert Mintz
Harry Witherspoon – Ben Ribler
Annabel Glick- Sally Imbriano
Rita La Porta – Candice Shedd-Thompson
Vinnie Di Ruzzio – Chris Rudy
Luigi Gaudi – Michael Reid
The Body – James Mernin
Landlady/Ensemble – Carolyn Burke
Dominique du Monaco – Sydney Johnson
Emcee/Ensemble – Chris Rios
Bellhop/Ensemble – Jeremy Crawford
Swing – Allison Bradbury
Swing – Patrick Payne
Director/Choreographer – Robert Mintz
Music Director – Lucia Lanave
Scenic Designer – Jack Golden
Lighting Designer – Helen Garcia-Alton
Sound Designer – Evan Hoffmann
Costume Designer – Jessica Utz
Properties Designer – Sofia Quinteiro
Production Stage Manager – Sarah Strunk
Stage Manager (Rehearsal)/Deck Lead – Lindsey Jacobson
Assistant Stage Manager/Wardrobe – Christina McCann