The show that launched the careers of song-writing musical team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (who went on to write hits such as Ragtime), Lucky Stiff is a manic, madcap, slapstick number with zero plot realism but full marks for entertainment value.
Loosely based on the 1935 film, The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo, Lucky Stiff brings together Americans, British, and a a few fake Italians, French and Arabs, in a game of mistaken identity, slamming doors and gun chases, all laced with high energy songs.
Seemingly dull English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon’s humdrum life capsizes when a telegram (a rare occurrence in East Grinstead) informs him that an Atlantic City casino-owning uncle he has never met has been shot, and bequeathed him six million dollars. The catch is, to claim the fortune, Harry must spend a week carting his uncle’s embalmed corpse in a wheelchair around the delights of Monte Carlo, to fulfil the old boy’s dying wishes. And even that is not as straightforward as it sounds...
We have come to expect Landor Theatre musicals to be sleek, involving, and guarantees of a good night out, at the very least, and this production is no exception. Rob McWhir’s direction is highly imaginative, polished and full of heart.
James Winter is a suitably unassuming and endearing Harry Witherspoon, and is beautifully counterbalanced by genuinely funny, expressive Abigail Jaye, as the blue-stocking dog lover, whose mission is to sabotage Harry’s plans. Lucy Williamson gives a dynamite energy performance – complete with Nu-Yoyk accent – as gangster’s moll Rita La Porta, while Miles Western demonstrates great subtlety and charisma as her downtrodden optician brother, Vincent Di Ruzzio. Mark Hayden shows good comic timing as man of many identities Luigi Gaudi.
The rest of the ensemble more hold their own, displaying entertaining versatility. Ryan Bernstein is charming in his contrasting roles ranging from stuffy English lawyer to quirky Italian nun, and Thomas Lloyd plays shifty tough guys and mannered waiters with gusto. Samantha Darling shines as the cliché of sexy French cabaret singer, and Jenna Ryder-Oliver is brilliant as the nosy suburban landlady. Special mention should go to James Houlbrooke for his movement – and his stillness (all is revealed on the night).
For one night, forget about psychological analysis, private angst and intellectual motivations. Just suspend disbelief and give yourself up to an evening of simple, unadulterated fun with Lucky Stiff – you will be glad you did.