BWW Reviews: Oyster Mill Has Luck On Its Side With LUCKY STIFF
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by Marakay Rogers
There are musicals everyone knows and loves, and then there are the musicals you're certain you've never heard of. When Oyster Mill Playhouse announced LUCKY STIFF as part of this year's schedule, a "what?" could be heard among some area theatre enthusiasts – not because they were astonished that it was being performed, but because they'd never heard of it. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's first musical collaboration is not a household name, partly because it never played Broadway – in 1988, it went for 15 performances at Playwrights Horizon, winning a Richard Rodgers award in the process. In May, 1989 it did equally well at the Olney Theatre, winning a Helen Hayes award for Best Musical and its star, Evan Pappas, a Hayes for Best Actor in a Musical. Since then it's gone on to England, its spiritual home, to the West End, as well as to Australia and New Zealand. Now it's in Camp Hill, and well worth seeing if you can get a ticket.
This is a small musical, well suited to a small stage, and therefore a perfect choice for Oyster Mill. It's a tribute to this production, directed by Alice M. Kirkland, that you won't even notice the lack of full orchestra pit. The piano and keyboards combination, which would make some think of a school play if they merely heard that this was the orchestration, simply works in the Oyster Mill space, and kudos to musical director Ellen Carnahan for pulling it off perfectly.
The show is based on the novel (not the old song) "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." It features everything a traditional farce should have – hotel rooms, multiple doors, thievery, good guys, mistaken identities, unlikely romances, and even a corpse. It also features (not seen on stage) dogs. Many dogs. Possibly twenty-five thousand starving dogs in Brooklyn whose lives might be improved if Harry's (Timothy Monaghan, in his second turn at the role) dead uncle fails to enjoy his vacation in Monte Carlo with Harry. Samuel Eisenhuth is to be commended for his remarkable performance as the vacationing corpse, much to the amusement of the Oyster Mill audience. Annabel Glick (Kara Hartman) of the Universal Dog Home is spying on Harry, for if his vacation fails, his uncle's estate literally goes to the dogs. But Harry is also being spied on by Rita (Kathi Schaedler on opening night and some performances, Melissa McKeehan in others) and Vinnie (Seth G. Martin) a sister and brother trying to save their necks from Rita's husband, since when Rita cheated on her husband with Harry's uncle, she also gave him millions of dollars of her husband's diamonds.
An Italian tour guide, Luigi Gaudi (Ron Ross) and seductive Monte Carlo night club singer Dominique (Emily Weaver) round out the main cast of the show, bringing additional twists and turns to the already convoluted, and extremely funny, plot.
This would be a fine staged farce even if it weren't a musical, but the songs do contribute heavily to the humor of the show. "Something Funny's Going On" opens the show and also reprises later, a comic Greek chorus making sure you've got down the essential points of the plot. "Him, Them, It, Her" runs Harry across Monte Carlo looking for his uncle's mysteriously missing corpse, followed by Rita and her brother. And "The Phone Call" is Vinnie's attempt to explain to his young daughter why he's not home for dinner and he's missing her birthday, because his sister has dragged him into her chase for her husband's missing diamonds before her husband can kill her or Vinnie.
Can Harry find his uncle's missing corpse? Can Rita beat Harry to the diamonds? Will the dogs of Brooklyn have steak or scraps for dinner? Will Annabel Glick hate Harry forever? Will Vinnie make it home in one piece to return to his optometry practice and his daughter's birthday party, or will his brother-in-law kill him first? Yes, every one of these questions has an answer in LUCKY STIFF. There are unresolved questions, yes, but as with any good farce, we're invited not to think about them, and the pace of the show certainly prevents it.
This is one of those musicals that actually has a solid book, because any successful farce requires writing as tight as its pacing. The songs don't quite live up to the quality of the book itself, and you probably won't be humming them when you leave, but they're certainly good enough to be entertaining, and the Oyster Mill cast is relatively successful in carrying them off. As small as Oyster Mill is, there's also no trouble following the lyrics, even though you don't know them as you would the lyrics in HELLO, DOLLY or CATS.
There's fine direction by Kirkland, and some good acting and singing by Monaghan and Hartman, who turn in solid performances. Schaedler is every inch the bored-turned-panicked New Jersey housewife, and Ron Ross is delightful as a particularly shifty – or is that shifting? – character. Seth G. Martin's Vinnie is equally delightful as Rita's bewildered and distressed brother, a man not used to action, adventure, or death threats from casino owners. And, of course, the ever-present-except-when-totally-missing Corpse In a Wheelchair is just… to coin a phrase… dead on.
This show's well worth the price of admission, and you owe it to yourself to see one of the better shows you've never heard of before. At Oyster Mill through October 14. Call 717-737-6768, or visit www.oystermill.com.
Photo Credit: Oyster Mill Playhouse