Lucky Stiff

By Richard Schultz, September 2015 Issue.

Arizona Broadway Theatre wraps their 10th anniversary season with an offbeat murder mystery farce Lucky Stiff, which runs Aug. 28-Sept. 20.

This hilarious musical features a cast of zany characters, mistaken identities, $6 million in diamonds and a corpse in a wheelchair. Based on the novel The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth, this show is the first to be produced by Tony Award-winning writing team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, best for known for Once on This Island, Seussical the Musical and Ragtime.

The story revolves around an unassuming English shoe salesman who is forced to take the embalmed body of his recently murdered uncle on a vacation to Monte Carlo. Should he succeed in passing his uncle off as alive, Harry Witherspoon stands to inherit $6 million. If not, the money goes to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn or the uncle’s gun-toting ex.

“Love ... wanting out ... wanting more ... wanting fun. Oh, and dodging bullets,” is how director Evan Pappas described the themes within this musical.

Pappas candidly explained his history with the show and why it appeals to him.

“It has stayed in me after all these years like a second skin,” he said. “I won a Helen Hayes Award, which is the Washington D.C. award equivalent to the Tony, for playing the lead role of Harry. There was so much love and fun on stage and off. Audiences couldn’t get enough … That production also won the Helen Hayes Award over some stiff competition. Get it, stiff?”

Pappas has a long list of credits as both an actor and director. In addition to many regional and touring productions, he’s appeared on Broadway in My Favorite Year, Parade, Putting It Together and A Chorus Line, Off-Broadway in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, The Immigrant and Pera Palas, and in West End productions of Merrily We Roll Along and Follies. Additionally, his directing credits include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Girl, Parallel Lives, Daily Sounds and A Man of No Importance.

The show, Pappas explained, is filled with many favorite moments.

“If you’re a romantic, it’s when the lead rivals realize the attraction for each other and the iconic song that Annabel sings called ‘Times Like This,’” he said. “This show is incredible with its zany, witty lyrics and score.”

Additionally, Pappas said he feels the show is deserving of its growing popularity.

“This piece is such a surprise to theatergoers,” he said. “I am so pleased to see it get done more and more. It is a farce with great heart. You can’t help but root for these characters and want to run away with them. This was Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s first produced collaboration together. I was fortunate to continue my collaboration with them by starring in the lead role of Benjy in My Favorite Year on Broadway. If you’re a musical theatre queen, straight or gay, you know their shows and their brilliance.”

Seth Tucker (pictured), who plays Harry in the ABT production, shares Pappas’ enthusiasm for the charms of this musical. Tucker is a native of Tempe who attended Arizona State University. His play Our Kiki: A Gay Farce was produced by ASU last spring, after its success at the New York International Fringe Festival. In the past year he produced, directed and starred in a one-night production at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale which raised $1,700 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“Harry is a young British man who is stuck in a life and is not happy with,” Tucker said. “The struggle Harry goes through is absolutely akin to something many of us have or currently are going through. Wanting to be fearless and live your life in a way that will make you fulfilled. Before we were ‘out’ we were still afraid to follow our heart. Lucky Stiff is about living your life the way you want to, even if it is scary or difficult. It’s about finding the courage to break free from the boxes we are put in.”

Pappas added that he is in awe of his talented cast.

“Let’s just say that I can’t wait to get into rehearsal with these fearless actors who aren’t afraid of ‘bringing it,’” he said. “I’m especially excited that Abigail Raye, one of my students whom I directed in New York is playing the distressed, crazy, legally blind Rita. You may know her from her standout performance in ABT’s Legally Blonde as Paulette. Trust me, a good time will be had by all.”

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