Murder, money and romance abound in musical at The Theater Barn

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NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — In 1988, before there was "Ragtime," before there was "Once on This Island," the theater composing team of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) gave us "Lucky Stiff." Based on a play by Michael Butterworth, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," this musical — which is being given a fast-paced, generally amiable production at The Theater Barn — is a mad and merry farce about greed, betrayal and love, none of which is taken very seriously.

Set in London, Atlantic City and primarily Monte Carlo over a 48-hour period, "Lucky Stiff" focuses on a milquetoast London shoe salesman, Harry Witherspoon (Matthew Ruehlman), who unexpectedly stands to gain $6 million provided he can, for one week, pass as alive the dead, embalmed wheelchair-bound body of an American uncle, Tony, he never knew he had on a vacation in Monte Carlo. Failure to meet any of the demands in the fastidiously detailed schedule his uncle has prepared will result in the money going over to the uncle's favorite charity — Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. In addition to the well-preserved body, Harry is given a cassette of instructions and a heart-shaped box he is under strict orders to protect at all cost.

It doesn't help that, once in Monte Carlo, Harry and the corpse (Joseph Sicotte), are being dogged by a representative of the dog home, a female milquetoast named Annabell Glick (nicely played and sung by Apryl Higgins).

Adding to the complications are Tony's nearsighted lover, Rita (Nicole Weitzman), who shot and killed him thinking he was someone else; her brother, Vinnie (Jordan Ali Gross); and an all-too-eager-would-be-guide named Luigi (Mark Shane-Lydon), all of whom have some interest in Tony's money.

There are some twists and turns in the plotting but there's nothing truly surprising. It's all fairly predictable and formulaic.

Under Robert W. Schneider's direction, the action moves at a steady, propulsive clip. The playing style throughout is a bit broad and self-aware but without going over the top. Flaherty and Ahrens' music and lyrics are serviceable and, under Kevin Wallace's music direction, delivered tunefully and ably.

The whole affair moves with breezy, if also, at times, insistent, self-assurance; a will-o'-the-wisp that passes agreeably enough on a summer night or afternoon.



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