Lucky Stiff - Theatre Review

By Bill Garry

There's something really wholesome about seeing a show at the Actors Co-Op in Hollywood. The troupe's home is at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, which has a beautiful, pristine campus on the northern edge of Hollywood with plenty of parking. The 99-seat David Schall Theater is cozy and technologically advanced; the sound system and lighting array could make a Broadway house jealous. The choice of 1985's Lucky Stiff, the first musical collaboration between Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is wholesome, too. (There is a little campy bump-and-grind, but that's all.)

The show tells the story of a nerdy shoe salesman who stands to inherit six million dollars after a long-estranged uncle dies. The only catch? He has to go on a dream vacation to Europe and live it large. Sounds great, right? Except the catch also has a catch:  he has to take the uncle's preserved corpse along with him.

Of course, the aforementioned six million dollars is of dubious origin, and the trip to Europe turns into more of a madcap chase than a relaxing day at the beach.Rivals, murderers and other interested persons follow our hero causing upset and laughs on the way to a surprising resolution. Ahrens and Flaherty have crafted a tight, musically conventional show, throwing in a lot of "way-out-of-left-field" zaniness (watch out for the dogs!) to add a youthful zest that you would expect from young writers. There are also a lot of 1980s references that are fun to watch, if you remember things like phones with cords.

Director Stephen Van Dorn uses a single, clever, multi-purpose set -- designed by Lex Gernon -- to take us from the London underground to the Atlantic City underworld to Monte Carlo's tourist-y resorts. Actors Co-op's multi-talented members show off their skills in multiple roles and as members of multiple species (remember those dogs). At the performance I attended, a number of roles were re-cast as one of the leads was ill. To the troupe's tribute, it was impossible to tell who was filling in and who was originally cast.

I would like, however, to mention a few characters who deserve extra applause:

Brandon Parrish, as shoe nerd Harry Witherspoon, starts out looking like a strong gust of wind could blow him over; by the end of the show, he stiffens his spine and takes charge of the action. Claire Adams, as Annabel Glick, a mysterious rival for both the inheritance and Harry's heart, matches Harry beat-for-beat as they insult, and develop feelings for, each other.  Her acting and vocal talents shined, especially during her solo ballads.

  Rory Patterson, as Uncle Anthony's married mob girlfriend Rita LaPorta, had the difficult job of taking a character who is basically a "wack job" and making her sympathetic and 3-dimensional. She succeeds with a powerful singing voice, sensitive acting skills and crisp comic timing.

Finally, there is one other cast member that I have to mention, and this is ensemble member Jose Villarreal. Villarreal plays Offstage Telegram Deliverer, Vicious Punk, Mr. Loomis the Eye Patient, French Waiter on Train, Bellhop, French Waiter in Club, Dapper Gambler and Leper. He provides droll counterpoint to all the high-energy, crazy characters that filled the stage. How he kept a straight face is beyond me.

Catch Lucky Stiff running through June 18 at David Schall Theatre.

Posted By Bill Garry on May 31, 2017 11:49 am | Permalink