Stoneham’s ‘Lucky Stiff’: Some very inspired silliness

Andrew Barbato and Elizabeth Milanovich in "Lucky Stiff." Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

Andrew Barbato and Elizabeth Milanovich in “Lucky Stiff.” Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

STONEHAM – There’s no great message or meaning behind the musical comedy “Lucky Stiff,” now at the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 25.

What you can expect is a fine cast dancing, singing and giving it all in the name of pure fun, with the audience the ultimate winner .

The show is many things: one part farce, one part murder mystery, one part romantic musical comedy. There is a lot of visual and physical comedy, much of it performed artfully and cleverly by the strong cast.

We could spend weeks detailing a very convoluted plot, so we’ll just try and give an overview.

Andrew Barbato stars as the wimpish London shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, given a new lease on a most boring life when he discovers that an American uncle named Anthony Hendon, whom he’s never met, has left him $6 million in his will with one proviso: He has to squire said dead uncle around Monte Carlo for a week for the uncle’s “dream trip,” even if it’s after death.

The uncle’s body has been stuffed and mounted, so to speak, dressed up to look like an invalid and sat in a wheelchair.

Andrew agrees to the deal – reluctantly – and discovers that if he falls short of the goal, the money will instead go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. A representative from the Universal Dog Home named Annabel Glick (Lizzie Milanovich) is following him around, hoping Harry trips up, at which point she will take over, complete the trip and have the $6 million go to the dogs.

It’s hate at first sight until the two find themselves together on a night on the town in Monte Carlo. Harry gets lucky gambling, and then finally gets lucky in another way in a nicely budding romance.

Ceit M. Zweil has found an artistic home in Stoneham, where she has been one of the best things in the theater’s productions of such shows as “Lobster Girl,” “How to Succeed in Business” and “The Addams Family Musical.”

She has an exquisite sense of comic timing, which she employs to great use as Rita LaPorta, the legally blind former lover of Harry;s uncle. She confesses to a scheme that means it’s very important that she also get to Monte Carlo and find the $6 million that Harry’s been promised.

She is especially good in her scenes with Mark Linehan as Vinnie DiRuzzio, her brother and an optometrist caught up in the scheme, with hilarious consequences when he call ups his wife to explain he won’t be home for dinner because he is in Monte Carlo.

Thomas Derrah has fashioned a fine career as a “Swiss Army Knife” of a performer, equally at home touring overseas in the title role in “Julius Casear” or playing Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family Musical” at Stoneham, Here he is Luigi Gaudi, an Italian who befriends Harry and finds himself involved up to his eyeballs in the daffy doings.

Hats off to John O’Neil for the rather thankless and difficult theatrical trick of playing dead for almost the entire production, except for one memorable interlude

The score is fairly slight, never quite reaching the heights that Ahrens and Flaherty would scale in their Tony Award-winning epic “Ragtime,” or the much-produced and underrated “Seussical,” or even the successful “Once on this Island.”

Some of the highlights include “Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon,” “Something Funny Going On,” and the wistful “A Woman in my Bathroom,” sung when Harry and Annabel have opened up to each other – in many ways.

Bryan Miner, Samantha Richert, Stewart Evan Smith and Jade Wheeler provide ample support in a variety of roles.

There is some clever staging with Jon Savage’s set that includes a multitude of what appear to be shoe boxes, which transform quickly and easily to become a number of different sites.

The cast is all in under the direction of Caitlin Lowans and it’s doing anything and everything to get the laugh, and they almost always succeed.. Bethany Aiken’s skillful musical direction and the always-able choreography by Ilyse Robbins are also spot-on.

“Lucky Stiff” never really rises above inspired silliness, but sometimes that’s more than enough.

The Stoneham Theatre production of “Lucky Stiff.” Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed by Caitlin Lowans Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Music direction by Bethany Aiken. At the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 25. stonehamtheatre .org.

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