Review: RWU's rollicking Lucky Stiff

Life's rich pageant
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 1, 2011

If Lucky Stiff were any funnier, doctors would have to be standing by to attend all the knees being overenthusiastically slapped. The farcical musical is playing at Roger Williams University Theatre through March 5, and the production doesn't waste many opportunities for hilarity.

The show has book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Stephanie Dean, it's based on a 1983 novel by Michael Butterworth (whose title gives away the ending).

All the ludicrous madness is swirling around Harry Witherspoon (Peter Arsenault), who starts out as a hapless shoe salesman in some English backwater, jealous of the wares he sells because they will tread more of the world than he ever will.

Everything changes when he is notified by a solicitor that an American uncle in Atlantic City, whom he never had anything to do with, has left him $6 million. There is one catch. He has to take said uncle, who has been suitably prepared by a taxidermist, on a whirlwind Monte Carlo vacation that unk never made time for when alive.

So the whirlwind is somewhat slowed down by Harry having to trundle Uncle Anthony around in a wheelchair, while he is also in charge of a mysterious heart-shaped box. Trouble is, he has to follow the requested itinerary and details to the letter — a casino now, skydiving then, a red boutonniere but not a pink one — or he doesn't get the money at the end of the week. He is given fair warning by a young woman who has been following him around, taking notes. Annabel Glick (Mary Dillon) is a conscientious employee of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, which will get the inheritance if Harry fails.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens back in Atlantic City. Optometrist Vinnie Di Ruz-zio (David Kilfoil) is interrupted during an examination by his sister, Rita La Porta (Kylie Wyman), who is waving a newspaper clipping detailing the shoe salesman's bequest. Singing "Rita's Confession," she explains that being legally blind she mistook Uncle Anthony, her lover, for somebody else and shot him to death. Also, she embezzled $6 million in diamonds from her gangster husband, blamed it on brother Vinnie, and put the loot in that heart-shaped box. Sounds like two more people are going to be visiting Monte Carlo.

The songs are woven seamlessly into the story, such as when Harry warbles "Good To Be Alive" upon arrival in Monte Carlo, trying to overcome his trepidation with appreciation: "Uncle, you will die, uh, when you see the women — everything is French!" Speaking of which, there's a cute number by dance hall chanteuse Dominique (Danielle Alfredo and Lindsey St. Louis alternating) called "Speaking French," in which she advises: "You say mmm, mmm, mmm, and I go ah, ah, ah/And then you're speaking French."

We owe much of our enjoyment to Arsenaut's Harry Witherspoon and his straight-faced, underplayed exasperation at all these goings-on. He gets some solid support, most notably from Wyman as Rita, the pissed-off floozie from hell, who even turns an unsure singing voice into comical gold. (But why-oh-why not turn Rita's legal blindness into, ahem, sight gags? Not even a squint.)

Poor Mark Deering, stuck expressionless in a wheelchair, has a thankless job. What an uncomplaining pro. (He does get to whoop it up for a moment as an angry Texan after Harry has hotel staff round up stray men in wheelchairs for his inspection.)

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  Topics: Theater , Atlantic City, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty,  More more >
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