NextStop’s ‘Lucky Stiff’ is pure crazy fun
The idea of a woman passionately pleading with a man wheeling her uncle’s corpse around in a wheelchair, singing to him on behalf of all the abused dogs in Brooklyn while in the midst of a high-speed, high-stakes chase for six million dollars is, perhaps, why many people tend to call musical theater “unrealistic.” But luckily, apparently on behalf of theatergoers looking for an evening of pure, old-fashioned, crazy fun, lucky steep makes such a ridiculous scene the tip of the iceberg.
Lucky Stif, a musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty running until June 12 at the NextStop Theater in Herndon, might more or less be called “Weekend at Bernie’s the Musical”, but it’s a much funnier and wackier version of the concept. The action centers on a mean young shoe salesman, Harry, whose uncle Anthony leaves him an unexpected fortune. Of course, there is a caveat. Harry can only claim the money if he takes the already dead Uncle Anthony on one last trip to Monte Carlo. Beyond those basics, the show is hard to describe. A central and dominating element of humor is having a wonderfully excessive amount of plot and exposition going on at all times, making it difficult to name every line or even character that plays a vital role. Many parts are best left to surprise, but every ounce of that abundance fits into a neat two-hour runtime, including intermission, a particularly impressive feat considering the many ridiculous jaunts at the heart of the production.
Each goofy hijink is framed by technical elements that add to the overall tone of silliness and fun. The lighting design (Helen Garcia-Alton) is flashy, innovative and practical all at once. Colors illuminate the many doorways on the stage, and shadows are often used to emphasize the wacky, larger-than-life plot of the show. The scenic design (Jack Golden) is practical, with sets reappearing in new forms and functions, allowing us to imagine the ever-changing landscape of Monte Carlo as Harry and Uncle Anthony maneuver through the frivolity of the holidays. The technical star of the show, however, is the sound design (Evan Hoffman), which is not only expertly curated, but also Perfectly timed with the action of the show that I found it hard to believe that every effect didn’t just happen organically.
LuckyStiff the cast is also, in a word, fabulous. Directed and choreographed by Robert Mintz, each actor does an outstanding job of creating campy characters, so much so that the ridiculous plot, in their hands, is both clear and believable. Ben Ribler is endearing and goofy as protagonist Harry Witherspoon, while Candice Shedd-Thompson leads the more histrionic charge as Rita La Porta. Shedd-Thompson is absolutely superb in every over-the-top gesture and nonsensical line, with incredibly precise vocals to boot. She’s a real scene stealer. Sally Imbriano is also lovely as Annabel Glick, the show’s ingenue. Imbriano brings a stunning vocal range, but she also brings great timing and earnestness to her character’s most absurd moments that made me wish she had more to do in a comedic way. Of course, the ensemble absolutely shines, especially Jeremy Crawford, whose groom is perfectly executed from his physical comedy to the delivery. The show wouldn’t be complete without their crisp, precise vocal work (major credit to Musical Director Lucia Lanave), but it’s made delightful by the life and liveliness they bring to the stage.
It is the basis for LuckyStiff call, and why it turned out to be such an enjoyable play. The show itself, while wonderfully absurd, is nothing particularly noteworthy, but with a cast of characters giving their all, embracing the spectacle of it all with heartfelt conviction, it becomes a hilarious and engaging portrait of over-the-top musical theatre. . The kind of musical theater where the melodramatic combines with humor so that there is only one goal: to entertain. And lucky steep book. It’s not a show to go back to, ponder and discuss when you get in the car, but I promise you’ll be singing along the way back.
Duration: Two hours with a 15 minute intermission.
lucky steep plays through June 12, 2022 at the NextStop Theater Company’s Industrial Strength Theater, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. Tickets ($45) are available for purchase in line.
COVID safety: All patrons must be fully immunized and wear a mask to attend performances. NextStop’s COVID Customer Safety Policies are here.
By Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Direction and choreography by Robert Mintz
Harry Witherspoon – Ben Ribler
Annabel Glick – Sally Imbriano
Rita La Porta – Candice Shedd-Thompson
Vinnie Di Ruzio – Chris Rudy
Luigi Gaudi – Michael Reid
The Body – James Mernin
Owner/Ensemble – Carolyn Burke
Dominica of Monaco – Sydney Johnson
Master of Ceremonies/Ensemble – Chris Rios
Groom/Ensemble – Jeremy Crawford
Swing – Allison Bradbury
Swing – Patrick Payne
Director/Choreographer – Robert Mintz
Musical director – Lucia Lanave
Scenic Designer – Jack Golden
Lighting designer – Helen Garcia-Alton
Sound designer – Evan Hoffmann
Costume designer – Jessica Utz
Real estate designer – Sofia Quinteiro
Production Stage Manager – Sarah Strunk
Stage manager (rehearsal) / deck manager – Lindsey Jacobson
Assistant Manager/Wardrobe – Christina McCann