Lucky Stiff


Watching friends perform is wonderful, but also slightly nerve-wracking.  I feel nervous on their behalf, willing them to do well and hoping that my presence in the audience isn’t off-putting.  Thankfully, as long as they start off well, these worries quickly vanish and I can get on with enjoying the performance.  Last night, I watched Lucky Stiff at University College London, starring a young man who was a student in Fame, a Future Kid in Marty’s Project and one of the two guys playing my antagonist Ren in Footloose.

Lucky Stiff is a farce, which I first heard of due to a song called ‘Times Like This’ which appeared on a CD compiling tracks from off-Broadway shows.  That song was enough to encourage me to buy a full recording of the show, which is, like any decent farce, completely bonkers.  Harry Witherspoon, a repressed Englishman, inherits several million dollars from his previously unknown American uncle, on condition that he takes his uncle’s body on a trip to Monte Carlo (thanks to taxidermy, he won’t rot or smell).  Complicating matters are the staff of Universal Dog Home, who had hoped to inherit, his uncle’s ex-girlfriend who is desperate to get hold of a heart-shaped box and a man called Luigi who pops up literally everywhere Harry goes.  Naturally, things get extremely complex, thanks to bad eyesight, ambition, drunken maids and a variety of other unforeseen incidents.  The show is written by Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), the team most famous for the much-respected musical Ragtime as well as the songs for the animated film Anastasia.  The twists and turns in the script come thick and fast, as do the laughs. Unusually, neither the plot nor the laughs are put on hold for the songs, some of which represent some truly ludicrous situations (which make perfect sense at the time, of course).  The pace does slow down occasionally, for ‘Times Like This’ and ‘Nice’, but naturally – sometimes songs in farces can feel like someone has slammed the brakes on unexpectedly.

The cast and those behind the scenes did an excellent job with this production, which was staged in the round.  Each brought bags of personality to their role (or roles) and the vocals, both solo and ensemble were impressive, easily filling the space and balancing with the four-person band.  The director included lots of wonderful little touches in each scene and kept the action flowing. Much attention had obviously been paid to ensuring that each side of the audience got their fair turn at seeing the actors’ faces as well.  There were moments when I felt the show was slightly over-choreographed – it’s not a big dance show, but there was a few points at which characters would dance unnecessarily, particularly Harry Witherspoon, who had been in motion quite a bit before claiming “I can’t dance!” – he had even executed a few tap moves (though sans tap shoes), which made this claim unintentionally funny.

My young friend did a good job, and it was nice seeing him act and sing in an English accent.  He was believably awkward, nervous, bemused and frustrated as the plot demanded, and created an endearing character who you really wanted to root for.  It was intriguing, also, to be able to pick out his voice quite easily in the ensemble singing (even the background oohs and aahs) which shows how well you can get to know someone’s voice if you work with them for a while.  There were a couple of moments when I was worried that he would crack and start laughing, but he managed to control himself (though I did spot a smile during his ‘nightmare).  A couple of others in the cast didn’t manage to keep the mirth in quite so well, but none of them ‘corpsed’ in a disastrous manner.  Even when the leading lady found herself amused by various intrusions into a scene, she managed to cover this and convert it into in-character confusion.

I was proud of him, and pleased to be watching it with another talented young performer, who had also been part of shows with both of us.  He did an excellent job of being the ‘straight’ man in the midst of all the chaos, and displayed a good sense of comedy as well as the straight acting and singing skills I already knew he had.  I was pleasantly surprised by the general talent level of the cast, which was extremely high (my only criticism was one guy who seemed slightly lost with the dance moves, and I can certainly empathise with that!).  I spent a lot of the evening smiling broadly, and indeed laughing out loud. I feel very lucky to have seen Lucky Stiff.

  1. I feel the same as you when I go and watch friends perform. Glad you enjoyed the show!

  1. December 1st, 2010

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