Sunday, December 7, 2003

Dead man walking is predictably 'Stiff'

Theater review

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

Imagine a musical Weekend at Bernie's in Monte Carlo.

That's Lucky Stiff in a nutshell, the 1988 musical by Lynn Ahrens and University of Cincinnati alum Stephen Flaherty. It's not the duo's best work, but it's an amusing show that's being given an entertaining production on Northern Kentucky University's mainstage.

In Lucky Stiff we have a recently murdered gangster who has left $6 million to his long-lost nephew (likably innocent Roderick Justice), provided young Harry first take dead Uncle Tony on a trip to Monte Carlo the unlucky stiff never got to enjoy while he was alive.

Along the bumbling way, Harry and the corpse encounter rivals for the money, romantic complications and lots of slapstick with the expected running in and out of doors and losing track of Uncle Tony.

The music is not particularly memorable and the jokes are often predictable, but director Mary Jo Beresford does a solid job of keeping the mayhem moving.

As cadaver Tony, Tony Vinup is drop dead funny. It's much harder than it looks to be able to take all of the pratfalls, spins and flips out of his wheelchair without ever moving a limb and without ever showing any facial expression.

Kelly Strandemo is one of Harry's inheritance rivals (from a canine welfare charity) and his eventual love interest. She has the best musical moment with the simple and sweet "Times Like This."

Phillip Webster and Aaron Whitehead are an uptight, unraveling optometrist and a vivacious Italian tourist who get delightfully mixed up in the shenanigans.

Sarah Drake, Sarah Peak, Stephen Hunter and Brian Bailey add much to the comic mix by portraying more than 20 characters.

My favorites were Drake's drunken maid, Bailey's London punk, Hunter's French emcee, and Peak's oversexed nightclub singer.

An unexpected vocal problem on opening night prohibited Lauren Ashley Stacey from speaking or singing her role as Tony's murderous and nearsighted girlfriend. The solution of having Ms. Stacey go through the physical motions while another actor spoke and sang her part into an offstage microphone worked as well as can be expected.

A problem not solved was Ronald A. Shaw's uninspiring set design of red walls and simple decorations that look like they were slapped together at the last minute.

Lucky Stiff, through Dec. 14, (859) 572-5464.

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