TWS High School Rep Takes a Dead Guy to Monte Carlo
The High School rep's summer production of "Lucky Stiff" marks a unique gander at absurd musical farce with kooky characters, a taxidermied body and a $6 million inheritance.
Massive inheritances in theatre never seem to come without some type of massive catch. For mild-mannered British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, that catch is quirkier than most: trekking his dead uncle around Monte Carlo for a week while following a bizarrely-specific laundry list of demands.
If your first thought was “Weekend at Bernie’s!” hold on, because Lucky Stiff, playing this weekend only at the Theatre of Western Springs, actually premiered off-Broadway the year before Weekend hit theatres (1988 vs. 1989.)
Oh, and Lucky Stiff is a musical.
Musicals are relatively rare at the Theatre, but the Children’s Theatre’s High School Repertory Company performs one each summer in the Cattell Wing after a three-week blitz of daily four-hour rehearsals. Pure goofiness, however, is new to the program.
“In our five years of running the program, this is the first time we’ve done what we would call musical comedy,” said Cyndy Soumar, in charge of the show’s musical staging. “It’s contemporary—it’s from the mid-to-late ‘80s—but it is true American musical-theatre comedy, over the top like a cartoon.”
As Witherspoon (Colin Ashburn) hauls his dead uncle (Shane Burtker) around in quest for a $6 million payday, he must content with a hyper-emotional, legally blind gun-toting “mob wife” (Caitlin Williams), her neurotic optometrist brother (John Jackson), a dog-loving woman (Kellyn Maguire) and a mysterious Italian tour guide (Mason Maguire), many of whom have their own designs on his inheritance.
Ludicrous shenanigans and singing, accompanied by a four-piece pit orchestra, ensue.
“It’s definitely a farce,” said Jackson, a Western Springs junior. “Everything is over-the-top silliness; nothing is what it seems, it’s always elevated ten times crazier than usually what real life would be.”
In his director’s notes, director Tripp Burton noted that due to the precise timing required to make such a farce appropriately funny, “the idea that you can rehearse a farce in three weeks is almost as ridiculous as a farce itself,” but credited his “focused, energetic and sharp” cast and crew with making it happen.
“I’m getting kind of used to it,” said Williams, a Trinity Christian freshman of Clarendon Hills, who has performed in all five summer shows, of the three-week turnaround time “[But] it wipes you out. It’s a lot of energy, a lot to think about. It takes that eight-week rehearsal period for a normal show and condenses it.”
But whatever the rehearsal time, the silliness comes through at full power, as do all 21 songs, scored by the duo (Lynn Aherns and Stephen Flaherty, their first show) who would later go on to do Once on This Island, Ragtime and Seussical.
“We have some very strong singers who have really risen to that challenge of getting it done in three weeks,” said Soumar. “It’s a great little show.”
Lucky Stiff plays in the Cattell wing on Friday the 27th and Saturday the 28th at 7:30 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday the 29th at 2:30 p.m.; tickets are $15 for all ages and are available at the door or by calling the Theatre of Western Springs.