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THEATER REVIEW

There's nothing dead about one `Lucky Stiff'

In an oversized venue, an engaging cast and tuneful songs give life to an intimate piece.

July 18, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Entitled talent props up "Lucky Stiff," presented by Fullerton Civic Light Opera. "Ragtime" scribes Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty cut their professional teeth on this 1988 musical farce, in which a British dweeb wheels his late uncle around Monte Carlo to inherit $6 million.

Originally produced at New York's Playwrights Horizons, "Lucky Stiff" is adapted from Michael Butterworth's novel "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." It concerns Harry Witherspoon (Jason Webb), a London shoe salesman whose drab little life inverts when a New Jersey casino manager whom he never heard of leaves him a fortune.

The catch: Harry must escort Uncle Anthony (Michael Hill) on the vacation that this model of modern taxidermy always wanted. Otherwise, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn gets the loot, courtesy of repressed representative Annabel Glick (Jenny Gordon).

Meanwhile, optometrist Vinnie di Ruzzio (Jeffrey Landman) and Rita LaPorta (Mary Gutzi), his sister, have their own crime-caper reasons for trailing Harry. Once everyone hits the Riviera, all bets are off, as the opening "Something Funny's Going On" warned us.

A brilliant lyricist, Ahrens crams her libretto with groaners and contrivances. This leaves composer Flaherty scant room for the masterful drive of "Ragtime" or the innovations of "A Man of No Importance." Still, tuneful songs such as the thematic "Good to Be Alive," Harry and Annabel's anti-romantic "Nice" and the Sondheim-worthy "Him, Them, It and Her" reveal this team's promise.

"Lucky Stiff" is an intimate piece, and adroit director Greg Hinrichsen turns virtual handsprings to make it play the spacious Plummer Auditorium. The designs have glossy heft, especially Dwight Richard Odle's set with its roulette-wheel proscenium and Dufy-flavored pieces. Musical director Grant Rohr, choreographer Karen Nowicki and the engaging cast valiantly sell the chamber material to an oversized venue.

The wide-eyed Webb gives Harry a nasal-edged appeal that recalls Tommy Steele. He scores with Gordon's dizzy dog lover, who transcends slender vocals through heartfelt interpretation, making the cabaret favorite "Times Like This" a seriocomic standout. The lunatic Landman and gutsy Gutzi do brazen with pizazz, and Randi Gianetti's amiable Italian sharpie fits the bill.

Destiny Lofton, Don Lucas, Louis Pardo and Colette Peters display rich versatility in multiple roles, reaching a peak in the Act 2 nightmare, and Hill's dead-on cadaver steals the show. That sums up "Lucky Stiff," which trumps freshman quirks and over-amplification with loopy charm. Never wager against a corpse in a kick line.

*

`Lucky Stiff'

Where: Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions.

Ends: July 30

Price: $25 to $49

Contact: (714) 526-3832, (714) 979-1732 or www.fclo.com

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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