“A hero on the run
And a woman with a gun
And an ending with a twist
And a brother who is pissed”
What would you do for six million dollars? That’s the question underlying Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty’s (music) 1988 musical farce Lucky Stiff, based on the 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. And being a farce, it’s not a story to examine too closely as a Home Counties shoe salesman, a Brooklyn dog home employee and an Atlantic City optometrist and his legally blind sister converge on the South of France in pursuit of the money.
Shoeshop Harry is the one with his nose in front – it is a bequest to him from his late uncle that kicks off all the shenanigans. A sizeable inheritance with an all-expenses-paid trip to the French Riviera to boot, with just the one catch – Harry has to take his uncle’s body with him on every step of the holiday. As several other interested parties get wind of the news, the scene is set for all sorts of supremely silly capers and your enjoyment of the show may well depend on your tolerance of daftness.
They do it well here though. Paul Callen may be a familiar face to regular visitors to the Union but Lucky Stiff marks his directorial debut and it is a strong start – his company of 12 are extremely well drilled, whether nailing vividly striking cameos (Tom Mann’s solicitor is particularly delicious), delivering Jamie Neale’s cheeky hits of choreography or harmonising under Richard Baker’s musical direction. It’s intelligent too as Callen includes an Easter Egg about how the plot will unfold right from the start, if you know where to look…
And there’s a real freshness to his production, exemplified by Reuben Speed’s inspired design choices. The sheer simplicity of the doorframes hints at the farce about to come without needing to get too hung up on the finer points of a design that would otherwise need to include a shoeshop in East Grinstead and a New Jersey dentists before we even get to the casinos and lavish hotels of Monte Carlo. The production is also, crucially, really rather funny.
Tom Elliot Reade and Natasha Hoeberigs make a hugely appealing leading couple, their antagonistic relationship captured perfectly in the show’s most dreamily melodious moment ‘Nice’. But as with Will and Grace, it’s Jack and Karen you’ve got to look out for and here, it is Tom Keeling’s Vincent and Natalie Moore-Williams’ frankly outrageous Rita La Porter who steal pretty much every scene they’re in with a gleefully infectious sense of light-hearted fun which epitomises the production as a whole.