Lucky Stiff

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When the Hale Center Theater Orem wants to, it can really put on a great show. And “Lucky Stiff” — about a man who must cart his uncle’s corpse around Monte Carlo in order to earn his inheritance — is an outstanding musical, stylish, funny and professional.

The silly comedies typical of the Hale Center — “Lo and Behold,” “George Washington Slept Here,” “Kiss and Tell,” etc. — are fine, but often make the theater seem quaint and provincial. A bold, unusual farce like “Lucky Stiff” shows they can do something different and still hold an audience.

(The show is double-cast; this review is for the Monday/Wednesday/Friday group.)

Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Broadway’s “Ragtime,” and last year’s animated “Anastasia”), “Lucky Stiff” is about a boring shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon (Neal C. Johnson) who must follow his dead Uncle Tony’s instructions to the letter — including taking his dead body all around the south of France for a week of fun.

So the corpse (Eldon B. Randall) gets pushed around in a wheelchair and is made to gamble, sky-dive, visit museums and scuba dive — all portrayed cleverly by a frenetic cast that skirts around the stage carrying cardboard fish or putting their own faces in famous paintings, as the case may be.

Pestering Harry is a representative from a dog society, Annabel Glick (Korianne Johnson), who knows that her organization is next in line for the money, should Harry fail to fulfill Tony’s wishes exactly.

And for good measure — it’s a farce, after all — there’s a near-sighted dame named Rita (Hailey Jones Smith) who knows how Tony got the money he’s leaving to Harry: he embezzled it from her husband. She wants it back, and drags her brother Vinnie (Jason Webb) to Monte Carlo to find it.

All this makes for a jolly time anyway, and the songs just add to it. Even the slow songs, the ones that might normally be “tender,” are goofy, as Annabel sings of her love for dogs in one, and she and Harry sing of their contempt for each other in another.

There’s one good scene after another in this show, with no weak links in the cast and strong singing voices all around. Perhaps the ultimate in the show’s weird sense of humor is a surreal nightmare sequence in which even dead Uncle Tony gets up and dances hysterically.

The props and sets (by Linda Hale, Will Swenson and Nate Hale) are two-dimensional and stylized, greatly enhancing the look and feel of 1960s Monte Carlo.

The show’s only flaw is its structure. The first act is 60 minutes; the second is only half that long. Which means the story reaches its climax way too soon after intermission, and things wrap up just as you’re settling in for another mad flurry of wackiness.

That complaint aside, the show is non-stop fun, a fast-paced, animated bit of whimsical lunacy.

It's shows like this that restore my faith in the Hale Center Theater. I suspect a lot of audiences didn't like it, though, because it was quirky and unusual. But I admire HCTO for doing it anyway, proving that they don't ALWAYS pander to their audience by doing simple, easy-to-get trifles.

This show featured the great Jason Webb, whom I had enjoyed in several previous shows and who always amused me. Alas, the program notes indicated he was moving to California soon. I'll miss his performances -- oddly, he's the only performer I've really, really liked, in one show after another, whom I never met in person. His wife is good, too, a great singer and very pretty. They're a good couple.

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