Harry Witherspoon is a dull retail clerk who envies the shoes he sells because they get to travel all over the world, while he’s stuck in a boarding house in, I don’t know, London or someplace. Then he gets word he’ll inherit $6 million from his uncle, as long as he meets the weird conditions of the will.
It’s those weird conditions that drive “Lucky Stiff,” the musical farce now playing at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley. Specifically, Harry (Kelly DeHaan) must take the body of his Uncle Anthony (Bryon Finch) to Monte Carlo on the vacation he never had in life. Anthony’s corpse wears sunglasses and sits in a wheelchair, so no one knows he’s dead. It’s like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but funny.
Annabel Glick (Jennie Whitlock), a fusty woman who works for a humane society back in the States, follows Harry closely. One of the conditions of the will is that if Uncle Anthony’s requests for the vacation are not met to the letter, Annabel’s dogs get all the money instead. She’s watching to see if Harry skips a museum here or a casino there.
Also along are Anthony’s near-sighted ex-lover Rita La Porta (Jennifer Parker Hohl) and her optometrist brother Vinnie (JaceSon Parker Barrus), scheming to get the money for themselves.
Directed by Bruce Bredeson, the show is feverishly silly, full of big, goofy acting and tremendous sight gags. Puppets — yes, puppets! — are used to show scenes of skydiving and fishing, and Hale’s amazing Technicolor dreamstage is lowered to create a pit that, when covered with blue cloth, establishes a fanciful scuba-diving adventure.
There’s also an imaginative nightmare sequence that uses fluorescent paint, black lights, and tap dancing all to great effect.
Kelly DeHaan is a good, befuddled Normal Guy as Harry, though his British accent comes and goes. Maintaining a great, honking New Jersey accent the whole time, though, is Jennifer Parker Hohl as Rita. She is feisty and clever and an entertaining character all around.
The rest of the cast — which also includes David Glaittli, Jennifer Nix, JaNae Gibbs Cottam, David Schmidt and J. Tyrus Williams — keeps up the droll, rapid-fire delivery and non-stop visual mayhem admirably.
The production does succumb, a little, to the weaknesses of the script. The songs (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who also wrote “Ragtime” and “Seussical”) are fine, but the plotting is slow: For a show that’s under two hours, there sure is a lot of padding.
Criticizing the sidetracks is a double-edged sword, though. Jennifer Nix’s big number as a French chanteuse is one of the best in the show, but also the one that most hinders the narrative. If any sin has been committed, we forgive it because the whole thing’s just so darn fun.
After the show, cast member and marketing director JaceSon Parker Barrus gave me and my friend Chanel a tour of the theater. He was still in costume, which meant he was dressed as a French maid. He also indicated he really, really wanted me to mention that on this Web site.
The Web site for this show was mocked ever-so-gently in an edition of "Snide Remarks."