Stage & Dance

Director gets 'Lucky' break with campy hit

Lucky Stiff, which is playing at The Woodford Theatre, centers on a dead man in a wheelchair — think Weekend at Bernie's.
Lucky Stiff, which is playing at The Woodford Theatre, centers on a dead man in a wheelchair — think Weekend at Bernie's. Photo courtesy of The Woodford Theatre

VERSAILLES — Like many musical theater directors, Steven Arnold owns a lot of soundtracks. About 15 years ago, he bought a concept album of the musical farce Lucky Stiff and has wanted to direct it ever since.

"The lyrics made me laugh out loud," Arnold says.

"Every time I put it in and listen to it, it still makes me laugh," he says. "I've directed this show in my head about a hundred times."

In his second season as The Woodford Theatre's artistic director, Arnold finally gets his chance.

Lucky Stiff is the first collaboration between lyricist Lynn Aherns and composer Stephen Flaherty that sparked a string of long-term successes, including Tony Award winners Once on This Island and Ragtime. They also created an Academy Award-nominated score for the animated film Anastasia.

A kitschy romp, the show is based on the 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. It follows a shy English shoe salesman, Harry, on a wildly unpredictable adventure in the French Riviera casino city, where he is vacationing with his dead uncle in order to comply with the terms of his uncle's will.

You read that right.

There is a dead man (tastefully stuffed by a taxidermist) in a wheelchair, and it is the central plot point. If you think that can't be funny for the high probability of ensuing hijinks, please see Weekend at Bernie's I and II.

Even though Harry's uncle Anthony is dead, he is in high demand. A host of colorfully drawn characters are seeking him to get their hands on his millions. They include do-gooder Annabelle, who wants to donate the money to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. There are potential love matches, world travel, ex-lovers, gambling, double-crossing, tap-dancing and intrigue.

And — spoiler alert! — there is a cat riding a skateboard.

If that sounds like over-the-top camp, it is supposed to. One reason Arnold selected Lucky Stiff, besides his longtime desire to direct the play, was that it added a slice of unbridled fun to the theater 2012-13 season, something he thinks is important.

"There's nothing about the show that's meant to create any social argument or statement," Arnold says. "Sometimes we can just enjoy theater as something that's there to entertain, make us feel good, laugh and have a really good time."

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