The simple reality of a farce, especially a musical, is that one can relax, put the thinking part of the cerebral cortex on temporary hold, and just let the action unfold. The beauty of that is, in the midst of a song and a dance and some seltzer down your pants, it is a fertile ground for notable performances to burst forth—inspiration amidst the insanity. Such was on view with Herndon’s NextStop Theatre Company’s production of “Lucky Stiff,” a whimsical whirl into the land of guffaws.
…notable performances…a whimsical whirl into the land of guffaws.
The show is an early product of the creative team of writer Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, later known for the musicals “Ragtime,” “Once on This Island” and the Disney musical, “Anastasia.” A tightly written cavalcade of short scenes, it is a fun blur of action that works well at this pace so you don’t really question the wacky characters.
Hapless Harry Witherspoon is your typical schlemiel with a low paying job selling shoes and dealing with low esteem and the nasty neighborhood dog. His ticket out? His uncle in America, who he has never met, has left him six million dollars. He will receive the money only by following a strict set of rules, including taking the deceased Tony on a Monte Carlo road trip. If he doesn’t pull it off, the money goes to the Universal Dogs Home of Brooklyn—and if there is one thing in life that Harry hates, it’s dogs! Harry (an exasperated Ben Ribler) has a memorable facial expression when looking at Tony, now “taxidermed”—waxen faced, stoic, and sitting in a wheelchair. The cast uses this standing visual joke as a moving prop throughout the show, especially in later scenes, when…oops, where did we leave Tony? Shades of “Weekend at Bernie’s” came to mind as some people know he is dead, some unsure, and some want to finish the job.
“Something Funny’s Going On” sets the scene as the talented group of performers warm up the audience for the ensuing mayhem. Adding to the plot is a ditzy lover of the deceased (an over the top Candice Shedd-Thompson, exhibiting a so-bad-it’s-good Jersey accent). She thinks she accidentally shot him out of jealousy and now needs to get the money (in diamonds) to get out of trouble, bringing her harried brother (the always entertaining Chris Rudy) along to Monte Carlo. His torturously funny song involving his explanation to his wife, “Phone Call” was hilarious.
Of course, our reluctant hero needs a love interest and Annibel, (played by Sally Imbriano, prim and with well-paced timing) the rep from the dog shelter, is following him to make sure he follows all the rules of the will or else. Does dissatisfaction turn to attraction?
Director Robert Mintz kept a light show moving at breakneck speed, with excellent timing throughout. Other notable moments include the mesmerizing Sydney Johnson as the chanteuse, Dominique du Monaco, regaled in dazzling nightclub attire and singing the crowd pleasing “Speaking French.” She had a presence that lit up the stage. The four-piece orchestra, under Lucia Lanave’s direction, was sharp and blessedly did not overpower the singers.
Ribler is an easy presence onstage and is a bit of a cross between David Tennant and Hugh Grant (minus the stammering). He commands a very natural, unforced British accent that nicely sets him apart. Imbriano, in a nice turn as the dutiful Annabel, brings us an unsuspected stunner of a moment as she sings about her love of dogs in “Times Like This,” exhibiting a soft quiver, and a crystal clear finish. One would be remiss not mentioning James Mernin as the not-so-lucky title character. Literally deadpan for long periods of time, he does get to do a tap dance in Harry’s dream sequence.
The scenic design by Jack Golden is minimalist and includes the classic multiple doors gag. Lighting Consultant Helen Garcia-Alton featured lighting that filled the stage with distinctive colors that frequently changed, adding to the subtle feel of each scene.
How will this explosion of nuttiness turn out? My lips are sealed but there is only one more week left to see this wonderful production. Everyone needs something to laugh at these days, so keep a lookout for these hidden gems, especially locally. NextStop also has ongoing programs and workshops for youths and young actors throughout the summer.
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: The show contains gunshots and some mild adult themes.
“Lucky Stiff” runs through June 12, 2022 at the NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon VA, 20170. For more information and tickets, call (703) 481-5930 or click here.