'Lucky Stiff' -- where there's a will ...


Shadow Block Productions, a professional theater company operating out of the Drama Learning Center in Columbia, will present Lucky Stiff, a musical comedy with music by Stephen Flaherty and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.

The team of Flaherty and Ahrens is perhaps better known as the author of such musical hits as Ragtime, Once On This Island, My Favorite Year and the animated film Anastasia.

Celebrating more than 20 years of collaboration, this creative team has won several Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. They were also nominated fortwo Grammys and two Golden Globes.

Funny Money

Lucky Stiff is a murder mystery farce about Harry Witherspoon, a mild-mannered shoe salesman from England who is due to inherit $6 million from his American uncle.

This bequest is possible only providing Witherspoon take his uncle's body, complete with hat and sunglasses, on a vacation to Monte Carlo.

It is stipulated in the uncle's will that if Witherspoon is unwilling or does not complete the week's getaway, the money will go to a favorite charity -- the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn.

The play is based on the 1983 book The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. Lucky Stiff takes the protagonist and his deceased uncle (whom he has never met) on adventures that involve gangsters, nightclubs, gambling, scuba diving and sky diving.

A profusion of jealous and plotting characters come out of the woodwork, staking their claim to the wealth. This is where a murder mystery, love affairs and canine companions add further twists and turns.

Award winner

The original production of Lucky Stiff played a limited run at New York's Playwright Horizons in 1988, earning a Richard Rodger's Production Award, and an Olney Theatre production in 1990 won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Musical.

The Drama Learning Center in Columbia, where Shadow Box performs, has fewer than 100 seats, making for a cozy setting for cast and audience.

"The theater is intimate, and the cast and directors are outstanding," said cast member Richard Alexander.

The director

Shadow Block Productions was founded by Mo Dutterer, a retired teacher with Howard County public schools. Also serving as the show's director, Dutterer was the recipient of the 2003 Howie award for Outstanding Arts Educator in Howard County.

He is credited with inspiring many students who have since gone on to legitimate theater careers in New York and London. Dutterer is also the founding director of the popular Howard County Summer Theatre.

Dutterer said that he has directed more than 100 musicals in his career, most of them large-scale productions. But he founded Shadow Block Productions to focus on the small musical form.

"There are so many gems of beautiful small musicals," he said. Lucky Stiff is the fourth and final production this season for Shadow Block.

"Lucky Stiff "opens today and runs through May 1. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and this Sunday at 2 p.m. at Drama Learning Center, 9130 Red Branch Road, Columbia. 410-997-9352.

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