“Lucky Stiff” was an Off-Broadway musical in the late 1980s by musical theater writing team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who brought us “Ragtime,” “Seussical,” “My Favorite Year,” “Once On This Island,” and “Rocky.” Based on a novel, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” by Michael Butterworth, “Lucky Stiff” is a crazy comedy that brings to mind “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Set in the 1960s or 70s (we’re not quite sure), the retro look of the film is lots of fun. You could almost swear you’re watching an old movie. Animations that comically depict some of the action are interspersed throughout, and the costumes are fabulous.
As a Broadway baby, I loved seeing many of my favorite stage stars on screen, such as Nikki M. James, Cheyenne Jackson, and former Miss America Kate Shindle, alongside stage and screen star Jason Alexander from “Seinfeld,” and screen stars Pamela Shaw, and the late Dennis Farina. The lead is played by the charming Royal Shakespeare Company actor Dominic Marsh.
What’s the story? British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon who’s unlucky in both business and love suddenly finds out he has inherited millions from his uncle. Except he has to take his uncle’s dead body in a wheelchair to Monte Carlo and follow a detailed itinerary in order to collect the money.
In the uncle’s will is a stipulation that if Harry is unable or unwilling to complete all of the demands, the money will go to a charity for dogs. So, the charity’s owner (Nikki M. James) follows Harry to Monte Carlo in the hopes of making sure that the shoe salesman doesn’t manage to live up to his obligation and get the inheritance.
Meanwhile, the uncle’s girlfriend (Pamela Shaw), who believes she killed him by accident, is also in Monte Carlo because she needs the money to replace what she stole from her husband’s casino. She brings her terrified brother along to help her, played by Jason Alexander.
All of the music is great, especially Nikki’s song, “Times Like This,” in which she sings, “At times like this, a girl could use a dog.” Cheyenne Jackson’s and Kate Shindle’s glitzy Vegas-style numbers are a special treat.
While the film is very much a madcap farce, ultimately, it’s a sweet love story.
Directed by Broadway stalwart Christopher Ashley, the pace is breezy, and it’s a nice diversion when you want to watch something for pure entertainment value.
“Lucky Stiff” opens Friday, July 24, 2015 at theaters and on VOD.