“Worlds of things to try, how can you refuse them?”
Everyone’s gotta start somewhere and for writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, their musical theatre career began with their 1988 show Lucky Stiff. They’d go on to win Tony Awards for shows like Ragtime but this work definitely has the feel of a writing team still finding their feet. An adaptation of the Michael Butterworth novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, this musical farce makes bold claims from its opening number ‘Something Funny’s Going On’ but sometimes you’re left wondering if its funny-haha or just funny-odd.
It’s an unevenness that is underlined by MKEC Productions’ approach here at the Drayton Arms, director Marc Kelly reaching ambitiously to give us all the conventions of a farce, as it plays out here in a Monte Carlo hotel but on limited means, failing to conjure much luxury or laughter. Without the knowing wink to acknowledge the naffness, in a manner like Acorn Antiques say, the attention can’t help but be drawn to unwieldy yet wobbly door frames and barely disguised camp beds, which is a shame as this enthusiastic company deserve better.
An appealing Matthew Whitby plays the hapless East Grinstead shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon whose life is disrupted by a bequest from a hitherto unknown uncle, a promise of $6 million if his final request is met, which happens to be taking his dead body on a trip of a lifetime to the French Riviera. Brooklynite Annabel Glick, a beautifully voiced Michelle Crook, and Atlantic City gangster’s moll Rita La Porta, a striking Elizabeth Chadwick, also have designs on the money though and so all end up chasing the corpse in the chair in hope of the cash.
Throw in a multitude of vivid supporting characters (James Douglas-Brennan and Ross McNeill standing out for me) and there’s actually the makings of a decently constructed farce, which flows well when the show allows it to. The competent score doesn’t always support this energy though, Kieran Stallard’s musical direction doing a good job regardless, and the pace is further sapped by long scene changes which provide too little result. If Lucky Stiff isn’t the strongest show in the world, this production still showcases some emerging talent you’d do well to keep an eye on.