Monday, August 31, 2015

reviews - LUCKY STIFF - Arizona Broadway Theatre

the cast of Lucky Stiff
photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through September 20th.

"...there’s something funny going on at Arizona Broadway Theatre and there are two good reasons to find out why; the songs and the voices that sing them....Mild mannered Harry Witherspoon (Seth Tucker) is an English shoe salesman who wishes for a better life.  Just at the moment when he feels he’s going nowhere he receives a telegram and it changes everything.  Apparently, Harry had an American uncle he never knew, and that uncle has left Harry six million dollars, but there’s a catch.  In order to receive the money, Harry has to take the embalmed corpse of the dead uncle on a trip to Monte Carlo in a wheelchair and fulfill specific tasks at specific times, including sky diving, fishing, scuba diving, visiting museums and gambling.  It’s all spelled out in the will.  If Harry fails in any of those areas, the money goes to Uncle Harry’s favorite charity; the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, all six million dollars of it. In theatre circles, a general issue considered to be a problem with musical farce is that farce with music doesn’t always work....Not so with Lucky Stiff.  In fact, the songs are the saving grace; it’s writer Lynn Ahrens’ book that gets in the way. The plot is as it should be, full of nonsense, broad humor, lots of mugging and occasionally a little incomprehensible; everything you would expect in a farce.  The issue here is the humor and the padding.  The show moves at a breakneck speed, often leaving the audience, and presumably the cast, frequently breathless, and it’s all undeniable fun, but it’s not always easy to laugh; the dialog isn’t quite as witty as you might hope. ...Where Ahrens’ script sometimes falters, her punchy, clever lyrics never do, and neither does Stephen Flaherty’s bright and exceptionally tuneful score.... Seth Tucker’s Harry might stumble on the English accent from time to time, but he makes a wonderful nerdy and continually bemused foil to all the comically well-timed mayhem and black humor swirling around him.... Trisha Hart Ditsworth plays Annabel Glick, the rep from the Brooklyn dog home... her solo "Times Like This" where we learn a dog can be a woman’s best friend as much as a man’s is a thing of genuine beauty ...Abigail Raye... takes center stage.  You can’t miss her.  She’s like Carol Burnett on speed but better looking with a voice that can really belt.  Her bizarrely dangerous and legally blind Rita La Porta, the woman who killed Uncle Anthony – it’s complicated – is a truly funny comic creation, and Abigail’s spiky high-heels runs with it....As a show, Lucky Stiff may not compare as well or as grand as previous productions, but when the score surprises as much as this one does and it’s sung so well as it is here, it remains a perfectly satisfying way to end the season.  Besides, hearing Trisha sing and watching Abigail mug are alone worth the price of admission." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Wacky, zany, convoluted and charming are just a few adjectives to describe the quirky musical Lucky Stiff. Originally premiering Off Broadway in 1988, this show was the first collaboration of lyricist and book writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty who would later go on to write many well-known shows, including winning a Tony for their score for Ragtime. While Lucky Stiff isn’t as near as accomplished a work as some of their later shows, it still results in a delightful musical with a few slapstick, farcical moments and some charming and witty songs. Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production has a talented cast and confident direction by Evan Pappas, a man who has firm ties to both Flaherty and Ahrens, as well as this musical....The score is smart, with clever lyrics and tuneful music, and features a nice range of songs...While the convoluted book includes several plot points that are never fully realized or clearly resolved, it does feature a bevy of comical characters and situations.  Director Evan Pappas... is well acquainted with the material as well as has worked directly with the composers in the past. He does a nice job in ensuring that his cast doesn’t oversell the comic moments, guaranteeing the charm underneath the main characters isn’t lost. And he also stages two superb moments in the second act – the farcical gem “Him, Them, It, Her” which is full of well-choreographed, non-stop slamming doors and “Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon,” a hilarious nightmare sequence that features the entire cast.  Pappas also manages to get clear comical performances from his cast, including fine work from Seth Tucker and Trisha Hart Ditsworth, as Harry and Annabel, who both embody their parts with a combination of quirkiness and innocence under their assured exterior. They both have lovely, clear and strong singing voices with Ditsworth’s warm voice delivering solidly on the nicely understated comical ballad “Times Like This.”  With humorous body language, a thick New Jersey accent and even thicker glasses, Abigail Raye is comically delicious as the over the top, near-sighted Rita. Her big, powerful voice make Rita’s songs soar with humorous flair. ...Creative elements are bright and fun with Kara Thomson’s set design nicely expanding this originally very small show for the large ABT stage with a multi-functional Monte Carlo hotel set that works nicely to portray the many scenes in the hotel ...Lucky Stiff has its flaws, but it is lively and fun, and ABT’s production has skilled direction and a cast that throws themselves into their roles with gleeful abandonment."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Lucky Stiff was the first collaboration by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist/book writer Lynn Ahrens, who went on create Ragtime...As both a musical and a comedy, it feels like apprentice work ...but it also has some wonderful moments that point toward the team's later successes. And the production that just opened at Arizona Broadway..is a lively one filled with plenty of laughs and some top-notch warbling....the actors, under the direction of Evan Pappas, are fully committed to the silliness, and the results are consistently funny. It helps that there isn't a weak singer in the bunch, and Flaherty's songs are consistently tuneful...Hands down, the best song is "Times Like This," sung by (Trisha) Ditsworth (one of Valley theater's most talented sopranos) with a melancholy sincerity that makes the lyrics' comic twist (which won't get spoiled here) all the more hilarious. Speaking of twists, there's a decent one at the end, even if much of the buildup is by the numbers, including the ultimate obligatory element in a farce, a chase scene with eight slamming doors. And in some wonderful comic turns — and more great singing — by ensemble members Heather Fallon and John McAvaney, and "Lucky Stiff" really comes to life."  Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Something very funny is going on at Arizona Broadway Theatre. Lucky Stiff, the rib-tickling musical farce by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is ringing out the company's hit-loaded 10th Anniversary Season with broad peals of laughter and a cast that you'll walk away loving....Evan Pappas has faithfully directed and choreographed this gem of manic Monte Carlo moments, splendidly accentuated by Kara Thomson's evocative set pieces. Complementing Pappas's keen sense of staging is the perfect judgment of Cassandra Klaphake.. in assembling a cast as good as gold,, each bringing distinctive talent and flair to their roles. Here are just a few deserving special mention: (Abigail) Raye, exuding attitude and accent (Joisy-style) and a powerhouse voice; Heather Fallon, as a voluptuous cabaret singer, Dominique Du Monaco, giving a sexy, robust, and grinding lesson in Speaking French; (Tim) Shawver, meriting a garland of roses for best prolonged poker face while playing dead.... -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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