Last Saturday night I had the immense pleasure of attending my first Ann Arbor Civic Theatre event, and I was not disappointed. Lucky Stiff, while perhaps not in my top five favorite musicals, is a show I think is drastically overlooked in the musical theatre canon. At any rate, I was happily surprised to find this production lighthearted, entertaining, and above all a night full of fun.
If you’re unfamiliar, Lucky Stiff is a dark-comedy musical farce about a man named Harry Witherspoon who has come into a lot of money vis-a-vis an inheritance left to him by his distant American uncle Antonio. However, there’s a catch; he must cart his dead uncle around Monte Carlo for one last trip. Harry takes the bait and takes his uncle to Monte Carlo, but doesn’t realize that his late uncle’s lover (who shot him due to her poor eyesight) is also after the money, as it was embezzled from her husband. Not only that, due to a clause in Antonio’s will, if Harry makes one mistake all the money goes to his Uncle’s favorite charity, a dog shelter that’s about to close, and Annabel, a young representative from the shelter, is there to catch Harry and claim the money.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on, and the cast handled it spectacularly. One thing I was surprised to note was the use of a thrust stage rather than the typical proscenium stage. For those of you who aren’t theatre buffs and don’t know what those terms mean, it’s just a way to reference the stage in relation to the audience. For this performance, the audience was seated around three sides of the stage, with the primary action happening in the middle. This typically limits set design but also gives the actors freedom to move around. I was a little hesitant at this set-up at first, and I will admit there were times when I struggled to see what was going on up stage even though I was seated in the center section on the first row; however, overall, the set-up allowed the actors to move around and incorporate a classic slapstick kind of comedy into the play. It also meant that the actors were the ones moving the set pieces around, and I was impressed with how sharp they were with the set changes.
Speaking of the actors, I thought everyone did a fantastic job. While a lot of the actors used a little too much vibrato for my taste, this was more of a directorial choice than a fault on the actors. I have to admit, my favorite performance of the night was by none other than jilted lover Rita LaRusso, played by Lauren Norris. What can I say, the role is already a great role, and her comedic timing was perfect – she shined throughout the performance. I was also really impressed with the four actors who played multiple “small” roles – they were all so flexible and I can only imagine what their costume changes were like.
Overall, I was impressed by the level of professionalism and fun that the actors brought to the stage that night, and I can’t wait for my next AACT performance!