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Silhouette stages a musical farce in Monte Carlo

Howard County Times

It's easy to understand why the 1988 off-Broadway musical "Lucky Stiff" does not get revived very often, because its wacky story pushes a viewer's suspension of disbelief to the limit. It's also easy to understand why the show merits the occasional revival, because it was created by a distinguished musical duo and the show also has its share of enjoyably goofy complications.

The Silhouette Stages' production of "Lucky Stiff" really gets into the silly spirit of things and that level of enthusiasm makes it easy to smile at the most ridiculous of complications in a plot that unfolds in such exotic locations as Monte Carlo, London and New Jersey. The actors have great fun with their broadly written roles and their singing voices often transcend the material.

"Lucky Stiff" is an early collaboration between Stephen Flaherty, who composed the score, and Lynn Ahrens, who wrote the book and lyrics. Their other musicals include "Ragtime," "Once on This Island," "Seussical" and "My Favorite Year."

Based on Michael Butterworth's novel "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," this musical concerns a mild-mannered English shoe salesman, Harry Witherspoon (Rob Wall), who learns he has inherited $6 million from an American uncle so estranged that the two never actually met.

Wall brings an agreeable Everyman quality to this role, prompting you to hope Harry will be able to collect that money. He also has a reliably smooth voice in musical numbers that have him singing solo and also with various members of the company in tunes including "Mr. Witherspoon's Friday Night," "Good to Be Alive" and "Lucky." What's especially winning about Wall's performance is that he adopts a suitable English music hall patter for some of these songs.

Harry definitely will have to possess slick moves if he is to collect all that money. The reason is that the terms of the uncle's will are extremely unusual. If Harry is to receive the money, he must take his uncle's body with him on a vacation to Monte Carlo. Harry and the wheelchair-seated uncle immediately travel to Monte Carlo, with Harry attempting to pass off his dead uncle as a speechless invalid.

Flaherty and Ahrens obviously realize that the premise behind the story is ludicrous, and so the tone of "Lucky Stiff" is that of a madcap farce. Yes, hotel room doors will be slammed, identities will be mistaken and events will become very confused. It's as if they're doing a spoof of the farce genre, but the problem is that some of the knowingly dumb jokes are funny and others are, well, just plain dumb.

The first act holds your interest as those complications pile up. Among the characters complicating Harry's life are the uncle's mistress, Rita La Porta (Kristen Zwobot), and Rita's brother, Vinnie DiRuzzio (Don Patterson), who are scripted as live-action cartoon versions of Italian-Americans from New Jersey. Zwobot's zesty performance is capped by her strong-voiced delivery of the song "Fancy Meeting You Here."

Also putting in a bid for the fortune is Annabel Glick (Maddie Bohrer). She represents the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, which has a legal claim to the uncle's fortune should Harry be unable to fulfill the unusual conditions of the will. Bohrer does well with songs including "Times Like This," and she and Wall have a lovely duet in "Nice."

Also enlivening the first act is a stylistically versatile score, which makes it clear that this songwriting team can write for any occasion. The short second act is less satisfying, because it seems eager to wrap things up in a hasty manner.

In terms of the staging, this is a relatively complex show owing to the changes in location and the dizzying logistics of that farcical plot. Director Conni Ross and choreographer Tina DeSimone are fast and clever in moving everything and everybody around. That's crucial in a farce, because it's so important to have the plot complications proceed smoothly.

Making all those quick moves are additional cast members including Todd Hochkeppel, Michael Cornell, Alyssa Bell, Bill Pond, Alex Frazier, Stephanie Jo Clark, Doug Thomas, Angie Townsend, Ande Kolp, Lisa Sharpe, Bailey Wolf, Neal Townsend and Rebecca Hanauer.

Silhouette Stages' "Lucky Stiff" has its remaining performances March 17, 18, 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., and March 19 and 26 at 3 p.m. at Slayton House Theater, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Tickets are $15- $20. Call 410-637-5289 or go to www.silhouettestages.com

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