by Allison Mollenkamp
Lucky Stiff, at the Beatrice Community Players, is community theatre at its very best. Is it Broadway? No. But in many ways community theatre is better than Broadway. It’s accessible. It’s friendly. And the tickets are only $18. This production is all of that, and what makes it so perfect is the energy.
From the opening number, Something Funny’s Going On, it’s clear the cast is having a monstrous amount of fun. That feeling continues throughout the show, and every brightly colored wig and prop gun (oh, there’s murder in this show, did you know?), draws us into the magical and unbelievable world of the farce.
This is a farce, in addition to a musical. We first meet Harry Witherspoon (Steve Pearson), an unassuming English shoe salesman. Pearson has a big powerful voice, but gives his character the sheen of boredom that comes with nothing every really happening.
But then something does happen! And this is where you must suspend your disbelief and suspend it hard. Harry’s uncle dies and leaves him six million dollars. There is only one condition. Harry must take his uncle’s taxidermied body on a lavish vacation to Monte Carlo (all paid in advance). If he fails? The fortune will go to a home for dogs in New York City. Harry, as unassuming Englishmen in farces are so wont to do, immediately accepts.
Once this is all set, we meet two more of the show’s powerhouses: Rita La Porta (Lisa Steiner) and Vinnie Di Ruzzio (Noah Snurr). Rita killed Harry’s uncle in a jealous rage, and also helped the uncle to steal the six-million-dollar fortune from her husband. (I told you to suspend your disbelief, and if you didn’t yet, that’s your fault.) She has also blamed her brother for stealing the money, and now there’s a price on his head. So they, of course, must also go to Monte Carlo. (And they sing about it too, in one of my favorite, and perhaps one of the catchiest, numbers!) Steiner sells New Jersey firecracker so well you’d go for it at any price, and that spark and vocal power helps fuel the comic energy of the show. Snurr doesn’t get quite as much stage time, but when he does sing it’s great and he’s an excellent foil to Steiner.
The last of our leads is Annabel Glick (Elena Rinne), who works for the dog home and is intent on catching Harry slipping and getting the money for the dogs. Rinne is amazingly charming, carrying a bag printed with pictures of dogs and knitting in a nightclub. Her voice is also delightful, and Times Like This makes me want to watch her as Gertrude in Seussical (which was written by the same team).
Every song is a delight, and I don’t have the word count to go into all of them here. The ensemble doubles as a whole host of odd characters in fun costumes, and vocally they’re quite strong.
Another thing that makes this show so charming is the set. The last time I saw this show was in the basement black box of a college dorm, and it works with that little set. I’m sure it would also work with big lavish set pieces showing us the beauty of the French Riviera. The Community Players settled somewhere in the middle, with a unit set decorated with dice, dogs, and diamonds, as well as a giant roulette wheel that is transformed over and over to help set the scene.
Sound cues are well-timed and used to the benefit of this set that lacks doors to slam. The lights give us a touch of the lavish that we might not otherwise have. If you’ll allow me to geek out for a moment, it’s amazing what you can do with LED lights. Fifteen years ago the lighting of this show would have been reserved for rock stars and Broadway. Not so now.
Jamie Ulmer’s direction is evident in lovely little moments of coordination and comic timing: two characters mirroring each other, entrances that really land. I assume he also had a hand in the energy that keeps this show moving so quickly and the audience laughing.
I didn’t know anyone in this show, but it’s the sort of show where you feel maybe your dentist is in it, and you’re delighted to find your dentist is quite the talented singer. You want to go congratulate someone because not only was the show wonderful, it feels like it’s made up of the kind of people you know. Is community theatre Broadway? No, but in some ways it’s better. (On Broadway they don’t play dog sound effects before the show even starts.)
If you go: Lucky Stiff is being performed June 8, 14, and 15 at 7:30 pm and June 9 and 16 at 2:00 pm. All performances are at the Community Playhouse at 412 Ella Street in Beatrice, NE. Tickets are available online and at the box office M-F noon to 5 pm or two hours before performances.
Allison Mollenkamp is a reporter and producer for NET News. You may have seen her onstage at the Lincoln Community Playhouse or the STAGE Theater in Hickman. After a lifetime of moving around, she’s happy to find a home in the Lincoln theatre community. You can follow her on twitter @alliemollenkamp.
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