Review – Lucky Stiff – Union Theatre

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While death and comedy seem to have little in common, there have been more than a few occasions where the presence of a corpse has livened up (see what I did there?) a work of fiction. The classic is William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – but it’s hardly a comedy. No, you’d have to go to the heights (or depths) of musical theater to find a dead body that adds laughs to a show … and this is exactly what you get in Lucky Stiff, currently playing at the Union Theater. I had seen Ahrens and Flaherty’s Ragtime some years back, but that didn’t prepare me for the OUTRAGEOUS FUN of Lucky Stiff. I mean, it was like the very best Hollywood comedies – you know, the ones where you end up gasping for breath because the jokes never stop? The ones where every single actor is hamming it up so much that you barely know who to watch? Yeah, Lucky Stiff was that kind of funny – a really snappy script, brilliant actors, and then to make it even better THERE WERE A BUNCH OF SONGS. All it needed was a little tap dancing, really.

Right, so let’s recap the plot. Harry Witherspoon, dull (yet handsome, yes that’s you Tom Elliot Reade) shoe salesman, has little to look forward to in life until he comes home to discover that an American relative who he never knew has died and left him millions of dollars. The catch, though, is that he has to take his uncle’s corpse on a final visit to Monaco. With six million dollars riding on it, Witherspoon of course says yes; but what he doesn’t realize is that both a representative of the alternate inheritor (a dog shelter) is heading his way to try to trip him up, along with his uncle’s ex-girlfriend, who’s convinced the corpse has the key to the money she helped Harry’s uncle embezzle from her husband’s casino. So: Monte Carlo, a square, a corpse, a sincere young woman (Natasha Hoeberigs), and a money hungry New Jersey bimbo (Natalie Moore -Williams) whose lies have attracted the attention of the mob … kinda looks like old Harry may have bit off a bit much, huh?

As you might guess, everything starts going wrong for everybody – I mean, come on, this set up is pretty much the definition of madcap, just as much as the classic “scientist brings home chimpanzee for the weekend.” It could all seem a bit too much, but everyone, including the corpse (Ian McCurrach) throws themselves into their roles with gusto. The songs aren’t Sondheim, but they add extra bubbles to the mix and gives us some headroom to develop affection for our lead character and for him to develop … well, a romantic interest. A song comparing the loyalty of boyfriends compared to dogs? I got a bit teary!

The overall mood of the show was ebullient, and with a tight two hour running time it’s a perfect after work snack. Feel free to load up at the “prosecco on tap” bar in the foyer … a fizzy feeling is the perfect accompaniment to this frothy, giddy show.

(This review is for the opening night perfomance which took place on September 29th, 2017. The show continues through October 21st.)

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