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A musical that’s just dying for some laughs

Farce now playing at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse determines who’ll be the Lucky Stiff, benefactor or beneficiary


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Most actors don’t aspire to labels such as stiff or wooden, but there are exceptions. For the latest production from Drayton Entertainment, Robert Bridel is encouraged to be just that, in fact.

Bridel is the titular Lucky Stiff in a musical farce that draws comparisons to the 1989 flick Weekend at Bernie’s, another story about a dead guy who’s having the time of his life. Staying in character is very much required – the last thing director David Connolly wants to see is any corpsing in the stage sense: actors laughing when they shouldn’t be, which definitely applies in this case.

“If the corpse corpses, we’re in trouble,” he laughs.

Lucky Stiff, now on stage at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, is a musical farce that centers on the last will and testament of deceased American Tony Hendon, who bequeaths a $6-million inheritance to the nephew he never knew, Harry Witherspoon, a shy English shoe salesman.

Bored with the monotony of his daily life, Harry dreams that one day something more exciting will come his way.  He gets more than he bargains for once he learns of the unusual caveat to receive the riches: he must take his murdered uncle on vacation to exotic Monte Carlo … and pass him off as alive (smacking of Bernie’s weekend). If he fails, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn gets the whole thing, leaving Harry with nothing.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Atlantic City, Uncle Tony’s mistress Rita La Porta has just confessed to her optometrist brother, Vincent Diruzzio, that she in fact killed Tony because she believed he was having an affair.  They had stolen diamonds from Rita’s casino-owning husband, with the intent of jet setting to Europe for a new life together.

As the cast of characters grows – the 10 actors in the production play 35 different people – so too does the mayhem. There are many subplots for the audience to keep track of, notes Connolly.

Don’t blink, or you just might miss a plot twist of a production “in fine farce form.”

Not just a farce, Lucky Stiff is also a musical, which really keeps the pace moving but provides a challenge, as the actors have to stay in time to the music.

“It really drives the pace, as there’s not much room to stray from the score.”

While the play is something of a hybrid, the two stage forms – farce and musical – work well together.

“A farce by nature has a very musical sense to it,” says Connolly, who praises writers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for making it work.

“The writers are brilliant. They’re prolific and geniuses – they know all about musicals. And this is a true musical farce.”

Rob Bridel, Billy Lake and company in the Drayton Entertainment production of Lucky Stiff, now on stage at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. [Submitted]

Lucky Stiff, first produced Off-Broadway in 1988 and winning a Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre, was the first collaboration for Ahrens and Flaherty, who went on to classics such as Ragtime, Seussical and Anastasia.

True to the timeline, the Drayton production is set in the 1980s – big hair, big shoulder pads and big glamour, especially with the Monte Carlo locale.

The 10-member cast includes Billy Lake in his Drayton Entertainment debut as Harry Witherspoon. A veteran of the Shaw Festival for over a decade, Lake appeared in such acclaimed productions as Peter and the Starcatcher, Sweeney Todd and Ragtime. 

Julia McLellan makes a worthy adversary as the bookish, no-nonsense Annabel Glick. McLellan has performed in Stratford, and in Mirvish productions, as well as appearing in The Wizard of Oz national tour. Her Drayton Entertainment credits include Ariel in Footloose, and Snow White in Snow White: The Panto.

Ayrin Mackie is Rita La Porta, the high-strung, half-blind lover to a casino manager. Aiden de Salaiz plays Rita’s brother, Vinnie Diruzzio. Daniel Abrahamson tackles Luigi Guadi, the Italian playboy with an air of mystery, and Kayla James is the sultry singer and dancer, Dominique du Monaco. Also appearing in a variety of roles are Charlotte Moore, Matt Palmer, and Tim Porter. Bridel rounds out the company as the “lucky stiff.”

The Drayton Entertainment production of Lucky Stiff runs through August 27 at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse. Tickets are $46 ($27 for youths), available at the box office, online at www.draytonentertainment.com or by calling the (519) 638-5555 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866).

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