It’s not a bad job in theatre if you can spend an entire performance playing dead. There must be a temptation to corpse, of course, but if you can keep a straight face, not flinch or hiccup, then it’s a doddle.
Paul Tate almost steels the show when he expires at the start of the musical farce, Lucky Stiff. Happily, for us, at last night’s opening, he makes a Lazarus-like revival to again blag the spotlight from a cast of top talent at London’s Drayton Theatre.
Upcoming theatre company, MKEC Productions, laid out their credentials in 2015 when they scored a sell-out success with The Baker’s Wife at the venue. A year later they’re back and they’re on a roll.
Lynn Aherns and Stephen Flaherty’s witty and energetic comedy – about gamblers, myopic molls and inheritance – has had mixed fortunes since first being penned in the 1980s.
Although garnering major awards it failed to find any long-term success at the box office, both off-Broadway and off-anywhere else. A film version was also panned.
That was a great pity because the show, based on Michael Butterworth’s novel, The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo, is genuinely funny, ridiculously absurd, well-plotted and features some some tremendous musical numbers.
It helps when you have a cast who appreciate the madcap lunacy of farce and which includes a pair of stand-out songbirds.
Elizabeth Chadwick, one half of MKEC, as bubble-headed gangster’s girl Rita, is a superb, larger-than-life, comic actress with a belting singing voice. Rachel Lea-Gray gives her operatic tonsils a workout with a cheeky turn as showgirl Dominique. The pair blast the roof off the South Kensington theatre.
Director Marc Kelly (yes, the other half of MKEC) doesn’t have a lot of space to conjure up a French Riviera casino, a luxury hotel, or a nightclub, but that doesn’t stop him spinning the wheel and winning the jackpot – even if he does it with a pair of doors and a fold-down bed.
Lucky Stiff is imaginatively created with some wonderfully oddball performances from a cast of colourful characters.
Tate, as New Jersey casino manager Tony Hendon, pegs out after the opening song when his lover, blonde-bombshell Rita accidentally shoots him.
Tony leaves a Mission Impossible-style cassette tape (that ages it) giving instructions to his long lost nephew, East Grinstead shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon (the highly animated and always watchable Matthew Whitby), that the lad must take his embalmed corpse on one last holiday to the gambling dens of Monte Carlo.
I kept wondering how the lucky stiff would actually know that he was playing the tables, going sky-diving and learning to scuba-dive, not to mention the logistics of making this trip of a lifetime happen but Harry, desperate to flee his landlady and her dogs, was a desperate man.
Hot on his tail – and, it turns out, making sure that Harry does fulfil the terms of Tony’s will – is dowdy charity dog lady, Annabel Glick (a great comic turn by Michelle Crook).
Following the pair of them is Rita, determined to get back the $6m she and Tony embezzled from her wiseguy hubbie, and Rita’s ophthalmologist brother Vinnie (brilliantly played by Andrew Truluck).
And, following all of them, is a decidedly dodgy-looking Latin type with a very hairy chest, Freddie Mercury moustache and some major bling hung around his neck.
If we think Luigi Gaudi isn’t all that he seems, then we’d be right, but Nicholas Chiappetta certainly knows how to play a stereotype.
The highlight of this delightfully silly romp is the show’s big production number (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms in this intimate performance space), Harry’s Nightmare – Welcome Back Mr Witherspoon, when the poor sap dreams he’s back in his horrendous digs and that Tony has risen from the dead.
Barbara Jaeson, complete with rollers and maniacal grin, is wonderfully eccentric as the landlady and she pops up throughout the show in a variety of terrible wigs to play a wide range of supporting cameos.
Lucky Stiff is dead funny from start to finish. Running at The Drayton Theatre until May 14.
A talented ensemble make Lynn Aherns & Stephen Flaherty’s musical farce, Lucky Stiff, dead funny from beginning to end. Pure madcap entertainment.