OGDEN — I think one of the toughest and consequently most satisfying part of theatre is returning to a show you know too well. This is most common when you have performed in or perhaps directed a show. It’s tough because like reading a book made into a movie you sit there saying, “That’s not how…” Yet, often you leave saying, “I hadn’t seen it that way. I like how this group performed that.”
This exemplified my experience last Friday night watching Lucky Stiff in the Allred Theater at Weber State University. Lucky Stiff holds a special place in my heart because it was my first time acting as the principle role in a show. I loved playing Harry Witherspoon, the slightly dejected British shoe salesman who finds out he inherited six million dollar from an unknown uncle, Tony Hendon. However, Henry must take the dead uncle on a week-long vacation to Monte Carlo. While Tony teaches Harry to live a little, other people constantly chase him for the money including a charity spokeswoman and Tony’s former girlfriend.
So while watching this hilariously frantic story I had moments where my reviewer’s critical take was amplified because it differed from my own experience. However, in some songs like “Nice,” I was swept up in these characters’ lives regardless of anything else I previously experienced. I enjoyed watching the uptight Annabel Glick let her guard down to make a toast and wish on the Dog Star, and Harry abandon his hatred of dogs to like her. These wonderful moments helped bring the whole night together.
Throughout the night JD Dumas’s music direction united the show with excellent power. He fused together the cast consisting of only 11 people so that I could never hear one person out of tune. Additionally, all leads exemplified the right range and power to their songs from Harry’s talkative range to Rita’s power belts. Dumas also led the 4-person orchestra to keep all the comedic timing following the right music. However, one unfortunate moment occurred early on when some barking sound effects overpowered the singing and dialogue in “Mr. Witherspoon’s Friday Night.” Luckily, these unfortunate events were not common, and I lost myself in the lyrics of Lynn Ahrens and the music of Stephen Flaherty.
Director Jim Christian kept the fast pace humor flowing easily. He effectively helped each actor find the general mannerisms of their characters, such as a constant anxiety or a bombastic personality. These expressions worked wonders in the breakneck song, “Him, Them, It, Her” as each of the main characters frantically searched for each other in a foreign country. Moreover, the mannerisms occasionally drove all the characters actions. This worked fine for the ensemble (Shelby Andersen, Juston LeBaron, Tanner Rampton, Maddie Tarbox), who usually only entered for a few lines and did an excellent job rotating through up to 15 or so characters. However, for the main characters were underwhelming in some scenes, and I wished for some more depth. Overall, the show hit it’s farcical notes with the wheelchair rolling off stage at the right moments, and the plethora of witty puns, including Rita saying a dead guy looked settled.
The brother-sister duo, Rita LaPorta (Rachel Shull) and Vinnie DiRuzzio (Luke Monday), make some excellent outlandish moments. Shull plays Rita, the legally blind, former showgirl who stole the six million dollars from her casino manager husband, with full-out gumption. Shull’s confident air overlooked even the direst circumstances of “Rita’s Confession” as she explained the web of lies she and Tony created while inadvertently including Vinnie – who now has a contract on his life. Understandably, Monday plays Vinnie with outright panic. This occasionally goes too far, but I quickly forgave Monday, given the extraordinary circumstances his character is in because of his sister. He expertly shows an uncomfortable moment during “The Phone Call” where the full weight of unintentionally slighting his wife in the worst way hits him. The scene made me feel bad for Vinnie, but laugh hysterically at him.
Connor Padilla as Harry Witherspoon appropriately warrants tons of laughs for the histrionics he’s put in, but the mannerisms often substituted for an actual connection with other actors. Padilla deftly executed wonderful gags with his uncle (David Higley), such as a limp-armed wheelchair dance in “Lucky.” Throughout the beginning, Padilla displayed Harry’s obviously anxiety about his life and the prospect of taking his uncle on vacation, but he occasionally lost the right connection from one moment to another. This reduced over time and Padilla acted particularly well in the scenes with Annabel. I never doubted Harry and Annabel’s disdain for each other during “Dogs Versus You,” and I hopelessly wanted them to overcome their faults during “Nice.” As the end approached, Harry believably searched for hope during “Woman in my Bathroom” as the prospect of losing Annabel loomed in front of him. I found it charming that the down-on-his-luck shoe salesman finally found the perfect fit.
Jenessa Bowen as Annabel Glick perfectly represented the sweet yet overly selfless representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn with understanding empathy. Every time she appeared on stage I knew that her connection to the moment would tell her story and help everyone else tell theirs as well. Bowen honestly reveals Annabel’s deepest devotion during “Times Like This” with her appropriately bittersweet and yet extremely funny description of a “A quiet night, a stack of books, a tuna melt – on rye, a simple walk together underneath the starry sky.”
I enjoyed an excellent night of revisiting my past and enjoying some laughs in a new way. I was one Lucky Stiff that night, and I would gladly have gotten up and tried to tap dance with the dead uncle by the end.