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Wacky musical farce 'Lucky Stiff' opens at Scripps Ranch Theatre

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, February 5, 2023

A cool six million would change just about anyone’s life. Such is the case for shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, who learns just what happens when your inheritance comes with conditions in Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, running at the Scripps Ranch Theatre space through Feb. 19.

Harry pushes his uncle in a wheelchair.
Cody Ingram and Ralph Johnson in Lucky Stiff. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

This show, a co-production of Scripps Ranch Theatre and Oceanside Theatre Company, is under the direction of Kathy Brombacher and music direction of Terry O’Donnell. A campy musical farce, the storyline follows Witherspoon (played by Cody Ingram) as he learns that his Uncle Anthony has kicked the can and left a sizable fortune to his nephew, whom he’s never met. The catch? Witherspoon must agree to take the taxidermied corpse (Ralph Johnson) on one last wild all-expenses paid vacation to Monte Carlo, or the money goes to Annabel Glick (Kelly Derouin) and her nonprofit, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Complicating matters is the seedy origin story behind the funds and the murder of the old fellow, both of which involve brash Rita La Porta (Erica Marie Weisz) and her unwitting brother, Vinnie (Kenny Bordieri).

Like any farce, there are many zany happenings throughout the show, and things are not as they appear. The difference? This production is set to song, performed enthusiastically by a large ensemble of players: the above-mentioned cast members, of course, as well as Olivia Pence, Beatrice Crosbie, Audrey Ward, Ted Leib, Bob Himlin, and Bryce Nicastro.

Rita holds a gun on Harry.
Cody Ingram and Kelly Derouin in Lucky Stiff. Photo credit Ken Jacques.

At the center of the show is an exceptional performance by Cody Ingram, who plays British shoe salesman Witherspoon. Witherspoon, in Ingram’s hands, is slightly dissatisfied with his lot in life, but unsure of what to do about it. Uncle Anthony’s request, while well outside his comfort zone, seems to be the best course of action in order to escape the drudgery of Witherspoon’s day-to-day. Ingram plays this role to great effect with a believable accent throughout the show and soars effortlessly through his many songs. His opposite, female lead Derouin as Annabel, is spot on in her portrayal of a terse, no-nonsense dog enthusiast. Also a joy to watch, surprisingly, is the stone-faced corpse in the wheelchair (the “lucky stiff” of the title) played by Ralph Johnson, who affects a believable stillness in every molecule of his body while onstage.

The production itself is set on a malleable, if simple, set (Alyssa Kane). Rotating walls are oft done in small theatres and multiple doors are a classic element of farcical theatre, but the rotating walls here are also outfitted with a number of surprises including a pull-out murphy bed, kitchen stove, and shoe shop. It will be interesting to see how this set transfers to Oceanside Theatre Company in March. I suspect that the deeper house of that venue will offer a better acoustic experience than the shallow Scripps Ranch Theatre space.

Lucky Stiff plays at Scripps Ranch Theatre until Feb. 19 before moving to Oceanside Theatre Company, where it runs Mar. 3-19.

Program photo Lucky Stiff.


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