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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Lucky Stiff
Landor Theatre   February 2012

This amiable little musical was written in 1988, but there is nothing in it (a few inevitable Stephen Sondheim echoes apart) to prove that it wasn't done fifty or sixty years earlier. It has all the earmarks of a 1920s or 1930s musical comedy – silly plot, wafer-thin characters, and pleasant but instantly forgettable songs.

There is nothing in it to suggest that a few years later Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) would write the songs for the best American musical of the 1990s, Ragtime. But if you reduce your expectations, Lucky Stiff is a painless and mildly amusing way to fill a couple of idle hours.

The plot has a nebbishy little guy inherit six million dollars on the proviso that he take his dead relative, carefully stuffed and preserved for the purpose, on the Monte Carlo holiday he never had in life. If he screws up, the money goes to a dogs' home, and a dog-lover is trailing him to catch him in any tiny failure. (Do I have to tell you that the dog lady is a pretty girl, and that they take an instant dislike to each other, and what that means?). 

Also chasing him is the dead man's girlfriend, her ophthalmologist (I don't know why) brother who is himself being chased by the Mob, and a mysterious Italian with a penchant for dressing as an Arab. 

See what I mean by a silly plot? Of course the boy and girl will get together, and the other plot loose ends will either be wrapped up in extremely improbable ways or left hanging. 

And along the way there will be a string of songs. The most successful are either pastiches – a French chanteuse's sexy number – or self-parodying, like a love song to a dog or a seduction song to a corpse. Ahrens' lyrics lean toward Sondheimish internal rhymes and cleverness, and there is one nice I-don't-love-you love song that might have had some life outside the show.

At its best, then, Lucky Stiff feels like a fringe show, just too fragile and derivative for a larger production, which may be why this over-a-pub theatre, which usually punches way above its weight – their production of Ragtime last year was fully of West End quality and calibre – has given Lucky Stiff a fringe feel, with both production and performances not much more than adequate, and not always that. 

Director Rob McWhir gets little more than generic performances from his cast, with no meant-for-each-other chemistry between the romantic leads, while the others play caricatures not especially well. There's no credit in the programme for stage design, but the cleverest thing about the production is the inventive and witty use of a wall of doors.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Lucky Stiff - Landor Theatre 2012