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Unofficial Ahrens and Flaherty fest under way


Over the next six months, the musicals of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty will be so well represented on Baltimore stages, they practically constitute an unofficial Ahrens and Flaherty festival.

The celebration has begun, with an enjoyable, rare revival of their 1988 musical Lucky Stiff at Cockpit in Court. Next month, the Maryland Arts Festival will stage the pair's 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime, and in December, Center Stage will produce their 1990 show Once on This Island.

Although musicals can be made from almost any subject, Lucky Stiff stems from a highly bizarre source - a comic crime novel called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, by Michael Butterworth, which includes a corpse among its main characters. Because musicals rely on singing and dancing, a corpse presents obvious difficulties.

Combine that with a plot that has too many twists and turns, and Lucky Stiff would appear to need more than luck. At Cockpit, it also gets a good deal of talent (especially vocal talent) and a refreshingly light touch by director/choreographer James Hunnicutt.

The convoluted plot concerns Harry (Joey Hellman), a British shoe salesman who inherits $6 million from his uncle. But there's a catch. The will stipulates that Harry accompany Uncle Anthony's corpse on a holiday to Monte Carlo.

Following closely on Harry's heels is a young woman named Annabel (Rebecca Vourvoulas) who works for the dog-welfare organization that gets the $6 million if Harry fails to follow his uncle's instructions to the letter. And, not far behind are Anthony's girlfriend, the near-sighted wife (Julia Lancione) of a mobster, and her optometrist brother (Jason Crawford), who are also determined to get their hands on the cash.

Hunnicutt handles this ludicrous tale with welcome whimsy. For example, Vourvoulas' adorable Annabel has a charming number, "Times Like This (a girl could use a dog)," in which she dances her cares away with an actor wearing a plush dog head. And thanks to a nightmare of Harry's, Uncle Anthony's corpse actually gets to dance - in a kick line no less.

Lucky Stiff received its first production outside New York at Olney Theatre Center in 1989. Back then it would have been difficult to predict that Ahrens and Flaherty would go on to create two Tony Award-nominated musicals. With the advantage of hindsight, it's possible to look at Lucky Stiff and spot early signs of their budding skill for turning complicated novels into musicals (which they perfected in Ragtime) and for crafting delightful songs (which also fill the score of Once on This Island). But besides all that, Cockpit's production is just plain fun.

Showtimes at Cockpit, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., are 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and June 30, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through July 3. Tickets are $15-$17. Call 410-780-6369.

Ghosts singing oldies

Oddly enough, a musical featuring dead characters has also opened the season at the Maryland Arts Festival. The cast of the revue, Forever Plaid, consists of the ghosts of a fictitious male quartet whose members were killed in 1964 when their car was struck by a bus carrying teenagers to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Created by Stuart Ross, Forever Plaid includes more than two dozen 1950s and 1960s Golden Oldies. Under the stage direction of Michael Stebbins and musical direction of Elizabeth Fink, the Plaids - Seth David, Ron Giddings, Benjamin Kingsland and Paul Wissman - don't always achieve smooth vocal harmonies, and the acting at times displays the awkwardness of youth.

But there are some amusing bits, such as the group's use of plungers as microphones to demonstrate how the foursome rehearsed "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby," or their fast-forward imitation of The Ed Sullivan Show, complete with Wissman pretending to be a trained seal and David depicting a Brunhilde-helmeted opera diva.

And, the show's setting - in Towson University's Auburn House Pavilion - is simply lovely. So much so, that, sitting at a cabaret table listening to the quartet softly croon "Moments to Remember" as the evening breezes waft by, you can almost forgive the production's shortcomings.

Showtimes at the Auburn House Pavilion, Osler and Cross Campus drives, are 8 p.m. tomorrow and July 7 and 15; 7:30 p.m. July 10; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and July 17. Tickets are $20. Call 410-704-2787.

'80s flashback

Speaking of blasts from the past, The Awesome 80s Prom, an interactive Tony n' Tina's Wedding-style show about a high school prom, will be presented at the Hippodrome's M&T; Pavilion, 12 N. Eutaw St., starting Sept. 27 and continuing weekends through Nov. 19. (The show will be cast locally; for more information, call 410-837-7400.) Tickets go on sale Sunday and range from $37.50 to $70. Call 410-547-SEAT.

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