Daily Pilot

Comedy is 'Stiff' in name only

By Tom Titus for Daily Pilot

They've explored the world of history ("Ragtime") and fantasy ("Seussical"), but the creative team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty earlier elected to tackle two other genres mystery and farce in their offbeat musical comedy "Lucky Stiff," based on the novel "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."

The resultant project, now on view at the Costa Mesa Playhouse under the direction of David A. Blair, continues that theater's close kinship with the outlandish in a wild and wacky production designed to draw continuous chuckles, if not frequent belly laughs.

To begin with, the title character of "Lucky Stiff" is just that a stiff. He's a recently deceased gambler with a $6-million fortune that he's bequeathing to a nephew he's never met on certain conditions that the beneficiary take his late benefactor on a gambling tour of Monte Carlo. Yes, push the corpse in a wheelchair through that capital of global gaming.

If the nephew, a hapless English shoe salesman, fails to carry out the old guy's instructions, the fortune instead reverts to a canine charity in Brooklyn. And a representative of this organization is playing bloodhound, following the pair around and taking copious notes.

Along the way, there's the decedent's widow (and killer) and her touchy optometrist brother, also trying to track down the errant cash, as well as a collection of goofy characters reminiscent of a Damon Runyon adaptation of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

Central to all this craziness is Topher Mauerhan as the bland British shoe clerk, giving an earnest account of the favored heir whose road to riches is paved with pitfalls. Juicing up his mission is a terrific Melissa Glasgow as the dog fancier hounding his every move.

The stellar performance of the show, however, is delivered by Emily Price as the brassy, pistol-packing fortune hunter who can hold a note all the way into next week (did we mention the show also is a musical?). She's ably supported by Kyle Myers as her jittery eye-doctor brother.

Throughout the production, there are several actors who double and triple in character assignments. Bruce Schechter's continental showman tops the list, along with Katelyn Spurgin's sexy chorine.

Particularly imposing is Daniel Berlin's over-the-top effort as the hero's "landlady," a beefy dragster. Tony Sanchez and Danielle MacInnis complete the supporting roles, while the dead uncle is played by a rotating cast of three mute actors (Jeff Courtney in Saturday's opening performance).

Backed by a single pianist (Pro Mojica), the show is less involved with musical presentation than farcical flamboyance. Director Blair keeps the action swift and, nearly, non-stop, aided by Tricia Bowman's clever choreography.

The set design basically a back wall with paw prints and playing cards is uncredited, though its layout is quite intricate with its wheelchair-ramp accessibility. Ian Forman's lighting effects complete the stage picture.

"Lucky Stiff" may be an old-timer chronologically (it first hit the stage, off Broadway, in 1988), but it's a newbie for local audiences and continues a long tradition of envelope-pushing comedic productions at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Lucky Stiff"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St. Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Until March 10

Cost: $16 - $18

Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.CostaMesaPlayhouse.com