Traditionally, ‘Lucky Stiff’ is a quirky chamber piece of slapstick, absurdist musical theatre by Ahrens (book/lyrics) and Flaherty (music), the show-writing duo behind ‘Ragtime’ and ‘Seussical’ to name but two of their many collaborations. This early example of their work has now been made into a live-action film (with a small element of animation), which was released on iTunes back in May.
Directed by ‘Memphis’ director Christopher Ashley, the movie is a zany romp, which remains true to the tone and feel of the original material. The story follows the hapless Harry Witherspoon, who manages escape the banality of his life as a small time shoe salesman from East Grinstead when his uncle Anthony, whom he has never met, bequeaths him six million dollars on the proviso that he takes his corpse on one last vacation to Monte Carlo. However, failure to follow precise instructions that Anthony has left on a tape recorder will result in the entire fortune being donated to the Brooklyn Home for Dogs.
Undeterred, Harry begins his voyage, unaware that he’s being followed by Miss Glick, a representative from the dog’s home and by Rita La Porta who is in hot pursuit of the diamonds she believes her late lover, Uncle Anthony, has on his cold, dead person.
What follows is a zany, nonsensical (though enjoyable) romp through planes, trains, Monte Carlo hotels, cabaret clubs and speed boats, all interspersed with catchy, tuneful songs. The cast are strong, with relative unknown (musical theatre-wise) Dominic Marsh playing Harry and Broadway regular (‘Book of Mormon’ and ‘Les Miserables’) Nikki M. James impressing with her lovely tone and even vibrato as Miss Glick. Comedy turns come from Pamela Shaw who excels as nearly-blind ‘Housewives of New York’ type Rita and Seinfield regular Jason Alexander is wonderful as her long-suffering optometrist brother Vinnie. His version of audition classic ‘The Phone Call’ was great – well song and acted. Cameos from recognisbale ‘Smash’ and ‘Glee’ regulars abound.
Overall, though Christopher Ashley has taken a quite ‘safe’ route, doing a direct stage to screen transfer, this is an enjoyable romp that is well done and enthusiastically performed. People who don’t like musical theatre definitely won’t like this film as it’s a perfect example of camp, silly MT nonsense. However, the songs are genuinely memorable and hummable. The film surprised me in that it showed the score of ‘Lucky Stiff’ to be stronger than I remembered; almost every song is brilliant! If you’re in the mood for some camp theatricality with tunes you can hum, you could do a lot worse!
Reviewed by Jody Tranter
Photo: Mark Fellman