Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Lucky Stiff
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Solitary Confinement and Seussical

Alaina Beauloye and Gary Pimentel
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
The songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) may not be a household name in comparison to such well-known writers as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, or Rodgers & Hammerstein, but they've written the scores for more than 10 shows, including the popular Seussical and the Tony-winning Ragtime. In fact, in the last two weeks I saw three shows with scores by this songwriting duo, including one of their earliest works, the zany musical comedy Lucky Stiff, which is receiving a wonderful production at Hale Centre Theatre featuring a cast comprising of some of Hale's best performers who have each appeared in numerous shows at Hale. While it may be slightly convoluted and quirky, Lucky Stiff is a charming and fun show with a big heart, and with a talented cast, direction that ensures the comedy moments sparkle, and gorgeous creative elements, the production is a fun musical-comedy romp.

This was the first full-length Flaherty and Ahrens show to get produced and it's based on Michael Butterworth's 1983 novel "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." When the shy and meek English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon discovers he is the heir to his Uncle Anthony's $6,000,000 fortune, he is elated. Unfortunately, there's a hitch: in order to gain access to the inheritance Harry must chaperone his uncle's well-preserved corpse to Monte Carlo for a week, pass him off as if he's alive, and adhere to a strict itinerary of activities, including sky diving and water skiing. If he fails, the money will go to his uncle's favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. To further complicate matters, Anthony's mistress Rita, who mistakenly fired a gun that most likely killed him, and her nebbishy brother Vinnie, are also in Monte Carlo looking for the diamonds that Rita embezzled for Anthony. Also, Annabel Glick, who represents the Brooklyn dog charity, is following Harry's every step in the hopes that he'll make one mistake so all of the funds will go to the dog home.

While Ahrens' book is fast-paced and full of numerous complications, mistaken identities, and non-stop hilarity, there is so much going on with the multiple characters and interwoven plot elements that it occasionally threatens to derail the festivities. Fortunately, the characters are fleshed out and there is a great payoff. Also, the score is extremely smart, with character-specific songs, clever lyrics, and a variety of musical styles.

Director Cambrian James does a wonderful job with his talented cast to make the humorous hijinks comically sharp without losing the charming warmth at the center of the show. The cast are all exceptional. Nicholas Gunnell exudes an appropriate quirky charm as Harry, with a singing voice that shines on his many songs. As Annabel, Brie Wadsworth is equally as peculiar as Gunnell, with a warm singing voice and a sunny disposition. The two create a charming duo of misfits. Alaina Beauloye and Hector Coris are equally hilarious as Rita and Vinnie. They both have humorous New Jersey accents and hilarious body language that create characters that are high strung and deliciously over the top. Rob Stuart oozes charm as the mysterious yet dashing Luigi, and ensemble members Kathleen Richards, Amanda Valenzuela, Ray Barcelo, and Tyler Saccoman create a range of comical characters. As the taxidermized body of Tony, Gary Pimentel never once makes you think he's alive, which is a huge compliment, and he also gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

James' choreography is bright and comical and adds to the hilarity. His staging also makes great use of the various entrances and exits from the in-the-round venue to keep the show moving along with minimal downtime. McKenna Carpenter's set and props, along with projections from Boyd Cluff, work well to quickly delineate a number of various locations. Tia Hawkes' costumes are character and period specific and James' makeup and wigs are great, especially the hilarious one that Beauloye sports. Ryan Terry's lighting design uses an abundance of colors and shadow to create a fun and moving light plot, including one that gives the impression of Gunnell and Pimentel sky diving that gets big laughs. Lincoln Wright's music direction achieves bright and warm vocals from the entire cast and the sound design by Joshua Lindblom is clear and sharp.

While Lucky Stiff may not be a completely perfect show, it is incredibly fun. Hales' production is lively, with an exceptional cast of actors who know how to get big laughs from these comically rich characters, sharp direction, and rich creative elements that result in a winning and warm musical-comical delight.

Lucky Stiff runs through October 1, 2022, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or by call 480-497-1181.

Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics & Book by Lynn Ahrens
Producer and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Scenic Designer and Prop Master: McKenna Carpenter
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Lighting Designer: Ryan Terry
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Sound Design/Stage Manager: Joshua Lindblom
Projections Designer: Boyd Cluff

Harry Witherspoon: Nicholas Gunnell
Annabel Glick: Brie Wadsworth
Vinnie DiRuzzio: Hector Coris
Luigi Gaudi: Rob Stuart
Rita LaPorta: Alaina Beauloye
Body of Tony Hendon: Gary Pimentel
Ensemble: Kathleen Richards, Amanda Valenzuela, Ray Barcelo, Tyler Saccoman