Review: Lucky Stiff at Silhouette Stages

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 20-minute intermission
Something funny’s going on and it’s happening at Silhouette Stages in Columbia with their latest offering, Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens (Book and Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music), with Direction by Conni Trump Ross, Music Direction by William Georg, Choreography by Tina DeSimone, Set Design by Douglas Thomas, and Costume Design by Linda Swan.

The Cast of Lucky Stiff. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Lucky Stiff is based on a 1983 novel by Michael Butterworth called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and is about a nobody English shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon who lives an uneventful life in East Grinstead, England. He learns that his Uncle Anthony, from Atlantic City, USA has died (killed by his legally blind lover), and he stands to inherit $6 million. The catch is, Harry has to agree to take Uncle Anthony’s corpse on a whirlwind Monte Carlo all-expenses paid vacation or all the money goes to Uncle Anthony’s favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Harry agrees and sets out to fulfill Uncle Anthony’s dying wish but while in Monte Carlo, he meets a very quirky cast of characters who have plans of their own for the $6 million.
Have a traditional proscenium (traditional) stage, Set Design by Douglas Thomas is innovative and creative. Thomas begins with a blank stage with black curtains and actually uses a quite minimal design using tri-flats to represent different settings that were easy to move and set up. Not once is the audience confused as to where a scene is taking place and use of easy-to-move set pieces, as well, adds to the production value. The attention to detail is impressive with specific bed sheets, glamorous gold table cloths, and representations of the inside of a plane passenger cabin and a public bus. Overall, Set Design was spot on and added great production value.

Doug Thomas, Andy Kolp, Rob Wall, & Neal Townsend. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Costume Design by Linda Swann is splendid as this piece musical/comedy theatre, so everything is a little over the top and it is set in present day. Each character has his or her own individual style and each actor’s wardrobe works well for his or her character. Swann gives us a well thought-out, detailed-oriented Costume Design that helps define these zany characters without making caricatures out of them. Working with characters who are stereotypes and even one or two with secret identities, Swann does a bang up job with her design for this production.
No musical would be complete without a little dancing and Choreography by Tina DeSimone is charming and entertaining. I can tell there are some strong dancers in this ensemble as well as some who aren’t as strong as others, but DeSimone really gets her cast and has modified her choreography (modified, NOT dumbed down) to suit her cast and that’s such an important talent for a choreographer to have. She adds in a good old fashioned kick-line (which always goes over well, like it or not) and has her cast moving comfortably on the stage as well as giving her more experienced dancers more challenging choreography to utilize and show of their talents. Kudos to DeSimone for her excellent efforts.

Rob Wall, Mike COrnell, Becca Hanauer, & Lisa Sharpe. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Music Direction was tackled by William Georg and even though this production used recorded or canned music, it is still executed beautifully. Georg has a vocally strong ensemble to work with anyway and in the opening number, “Something Funny’s Going On”, the power behind the vocals certainly makes the audience take notice and clearly announces this production is ready to begin. Georg mentioned that the system used for this production is more than just pushing a play and stop button, but more interactive and he actually controls cues and timing in the numbers which is quite impressive seeing as though he provides all of the sound effects required, as well. The cast sounds brilliant and, from where I was sitting, not one cue was missed so, major kudos to William Georg on his musical work.
Direction duties are tacked by Conni Trump Ross and she has put on a well-thought out, well put-together production. Her casting is top-notch and fitting and the pacing of this piece keeps it interesting and ending at an appropriate time. Ross seems to understand this piece and the story it tells, while keeping in mind the comedy that goes along with it. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously, but gets the important message across of taking that leap of faith once in a while and trying new things because you never know what can come of it. With Ross’ superb guidance, the ensemble is able thoroughly and seamlessly tell this crazy story.
This is definitely an ensemble piece and the entire ensemble knocks it out of the ballpark, making this an enjoyable, fun evening of theatre.
Todd Hochkeppel takes on a supporting role as Luigi Gaudi and his dedication and effort make for a strong, funny performance. This character is an observer, in the background, and popping up when least expected or when it’s least convenient and Hochkeppel takes this character and runs with it. His character choices, especially his movement, mannerism, and impeccable Mediterranean accent make for an upbeat and fantastic performance.

Don Patterson & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Don Patterson takes on the role of the neurotic, optometrist Vinnie DiRuzzio. Poor Vinnie, who also happens to be the brother of one of the women after Harry Witherspoon and the $6 million, is dragged into this story kicking and screaming but takes it all in stride. At first glance, Patterson seemed a little out of place, being a tad older than the rest of the “main” cast, but after a minute or two, that is forgotten and he fits right in with this crazy cast of characters. He seems to grasp the character of Vinnie and his neurotic tendencies and portrays him well. Patterson is comfortable in his role, is confident, and does a great job, vocally, with his numbers such as “The Telephone Song” and his duet “Rita’s Confession,” giving a strong, solid performance.

Featuring Alyssa Bell, Rob Wall, & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

The beautiful Alyssa Bell takes on the role of the beautiful Dominique DuMonaco, a club singer who is “hired” to show harry a good time while he’s in Monte Carlo but ends up in a bit of a different arrangement by the end of the piece. Let me say that I am thoroughly impressed by the effort Bell gives to her character. She especially gives 100% to her solo number “Speaking French” and she is a joy to watch, tackling more challenging choreography while having to belt out a doozy of a song. Though the challenging choreography may have affected her vocal performance a bit, not allowing her to take a much needed breath in her song and belt it out as it should have been, she still does a stellar job with this part. She plays her character flawlessly with just enough “slinkiness” to make her sexy, but also enough naivety to make her innocent and likable. Her accent is commendable and, overall, she her performance is quite admirable.

Featuring Rob Wall & Mike Cornell. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Rob Wall is superb as Harry Witherspoon and really embodies this character making it his own. As the character in which this story revolves around, Wall holds his own and the responsibility quite well giving a strong, self-assured performance. His chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is effortless and helps make his character more authentic. He does a great job maneuvering Uncle Anthony (played brilliantly by a still and quiet Mike Cornell) around in a wheelchair and not crashing into everything up on the stage, which is actually a pretty impressive feat. I would like more volume from him during his songs but he does belt the high money notes, which is natural and, vocally, Wall is a dynamo, with his smooth bari-tenor voice resonating throughout the theatre. He understands his character and you can see the insecurities in the choices he makes onstage and within his face and mannerisms, making for a fine and praiseworthy performance.
Maddie Bohrer, a newcomer to Silhouette Stages, takes on the role of Annabel Glick, a straight-laced, no-nonsense representative from The Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, just waiting for Harry Witherspoon to trip up, just once, so the $6 million can go to the dogs, instead. Bohrer is absolutely charming and sweet in this role and she plays it beautifully. Her transition from “all-business” to letting her hair down is smooth and effortless and her chemistry with Wall is brilliant. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Bohrer a coloratura soprano, but her voice is sweet and strong and it works perfectly for her character and, on side note, I’d love to see her wail in a rock-opera sometime, just to see what she can do! Her performance is robust  and on point and a joy to watch.

Mike Cornell & Kristen Zwobot. Credit: Silhouette Stages

Kristen Zwobot as Rita La Porta is a standout in this production. From the moment she steps on stage she is in character (the stereotype of a New Jersey gangster girlfriend) and she is consistent throughout the piece. Her comedic timing is spot on and it helps that she grasps the comedy and her character allowing her to have a good command of the stage. Her look, character choices, and use of a New Jersey-esque accent make for a funny, hearty performance. It’s worth mentioning that Zwobot is a bona fide vocal powerhouse. Her voice is strong and clear in numbers such as “Rita’s Confession” and “Funny Meeting You Here,” filling the entire theatre (and then some) making for an outstanding and memorable performance.
Final thought… Lucky Stiff is a fun, fast-paced farce that is sure to tickle your funny bone and have your toes tapping. The material from Ahrens & Flaherty is catchy and easy to listen to and the production is well-thought out and put-together. The entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% to their performance and they tell the story effectively. Make sure you add this to your list of things to see this season because you won’t be disappointed.
This is what I thought of Silhouette Stages’ production of Lucky Stiff… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Lucky Stiff will play through March 26 at Silhouette Stages, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-637-5289 or purchase them online.
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Review: Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Running Time: 90 minutes with one 10-minute intermission

Tis the season for joy and merry making and the latest offering from Red Branch Theatre Company, Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf with Music & Lyrics by Harry Connick, Jr. and Book by Lauren Gunderson & Andrew Fishman, with Direction by Laura Greffen, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell, Choreography by Rick Westerkamp, Scenic Design by Gary Grabau, Costume Design by Andrew Malone, and Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson has all this and more. Grab the kids, nieces, nephews, or any young person in your life and check out this fun story of never giving up and discovering one of the true meanings of Christmas.

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Scenic Design by Gary Grabau is simple yet innovative for this production and the clever use of levels keeps the set interesting as well as the use of revolving flats to create the various settings and getting the cast on and off quickly and quietly. The painted scenes of the North Pole with snow covered hillsides and Evergreen trees are cute and serve their purpose but might be a little plain for such a fun show. However, overall, the scenic design is bright and very fitting for this piece. It’s worth mentioning the inventive, working conveyer belts in Santa’s workshop add great value to this production making for a well-thought out set.

To set the mood, Lighting Design by Stephanie Lynn Williams and Amy Williamson use the lighting wisely to show contrast between the bright and busy North Pole to the downtrodden and dark Bluesville. Lighting is appropriate and does not take away from the production but blends in making for smooth transitions and gives the correct cues to what feeling each scene has.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Veteran Costume Designer Andrew Malone never disappoints and this production is no different. Malone hits the nail on the head with this fanciful wardrobe for elves and dear old Santa Clause and citizens of Bluesville alike. Each elf costume is individual and adds to the characters and all the costumes are traditional, yet they all have a contemporary flair and Mr. Malone is to commended for his work on this production.

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

As this is a show with music by the incomparable Harry Connick, Jr., it goes without saying there is a lot of music and it is, after all, a musical. So, with lots of music comes lots of dancing and Choreographer Rick Westerkamp has taken on this challenge with ease and has this ensemble dancing and gliding across the stage in each number accompanied by this fun and jazzy score. The choreography is well thought-out and is a great match for Connicks music.

Speaking of Connick’s music, Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb. Though there is no live orchestra, the consolation prize is hearing the smooth, jazzy recorded voice of Harry Connick, Jr. himself tell the story of The Happy Elf in between the scenes. Merrell has a strong vocal ensemble and has them sounding fantastic in each number. These aren’t the old fashioned Christmas Pageant songs you’ll hear throughout the season, but new jazzy holiday show tunes and Merrell has the cast singing in harmony that rings throughout the theatre.

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.'s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

The Cast of Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Harry Connick, Jr.’s The Happy Elf is certainly a children’s show, meaning it is a show for children and directing this type of show can be tricky. However, Director Laura Greffen has taken on this challenge and has produced an unqualified success. Her vision is apparent and she understands the humor geared for a young audience, but also understands that parents and adults may be in the audience, as well, and she finds a happy medium to entertain everyone. She keeps the action moving and precise to stay within the 90 minutes, including the intermission and that’s perfect for any children’s show. Overall, Greffen gives us a well put-together and smooth running production.

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Todd Hochkoppel takes on the role of Mayor and though his is confident and comfortable in this role, his performance fell a little flat for me. However, that’s not to say he didn’t do a good job, because he certainly, like all of the ensemble, gave 100% to his character and understood what his character was about making for a good performance in general.

Adeline K. Sutter takes on the role of an unconventional, modern, slinkier Mrs. Clause that we’re used to, but she pulls it off nicely. Likened mo
re to an old time gangster moll, her acting chops weren’t stretched completely as her only expression was one of irritation and contempt, but she pulled them off very nicely. Sutter takes on double duty and portrays Coppa, an agent in “Gnomeland Security” and a nemesis of our hero, Eubie the Elf. Her talents are much better portrayed in this role and her performance is strong and entertaining.

Santa, the big man himself, is played masterfully by Dean Allen Davis and I’ve got to say, he’s a pretty spot on Santa Clause with a big, resonating speaking voice that booms throughout the theatre. However, his singing voice isn’t as strong, but he still makes a good showing as the joyful old man that has a tummy like a bowlful of jelly.

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Dean Allen Davis, Adeline K. Sutter, and Seth Fallon. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Seth Fallon takes on the role of Norbert, the curmudgeon head honcho Elf in the North Pole who isn’t a big fan of our hero and is by the book and waiting for our hero to falter. Fallon does a fantastic job as the stuffy, sour elf trying to ruin everything the hero is trying to accomplish and he makes the role his own. As good a job he does with the character, he does carry around an “assistant” that is a hand puppet and I’m still scratching my head as to the purpose of said puppet other than children always appreciate a funny looking puppet because it did not seem to move the story forward or have any importance at all. Regardless, Fallong gives a strong, confident performance.

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Katie Ganem. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Molly and Curtis, the bad kids from Bluesville are played by Katie Ganem and Sarah Luckadoo, respectively. These two characters, mainly Molly, are the two kids Eubie the Elf is supposed to help see the light and the true meaning of Christmas. Both Ganen and Luckadoo do outstanding jobs portraying bratty kids running amuck in the town, causing trouble and not caring much about anything and Ganen as Molly, gets the point across that she is a neglected child, probably just acting out to get attention. Luckadoo is perfect as the “sidekick” and willing participant in the brattiness going on. The two actors have a great chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast making for wonderful performances.

Megan Henderson takes on the role of Gilda, the sweet, shy elf who has a thing for our hero, Eubie, and Courtney Branch tackles the role of Hamm, the mechanic elf, who spends more time under a sleigh than inside of it. Both of these actresses were confident and comfortable in their respective roles and gave strong performances. Megan Anderson gives off an air of feminine cuteness that the character requires while she tries to get the attentions of Eubie and, most of the time failing, but for no fault of her own. On the other end of the spectrum, Courtney Branch, as Hamm, is very likeable and believable as the more tom-boyish character that just wants to help her friends. Both actors seem to understand the individuality of their characters and plays them accordingly making them a joy to watch.

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Cheryl Campo. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

A definite highlight of this production is Cheryl Campo who plays Gurt, the wife of the Mayor of Bluesville. Aside from being very expressive and totally giving 100% to her role, this lady has a set of pipes on her! Though her solo number is a bit short, it’s easy to hear the strong vocals and they certainly shine through in the ensemble numbers, as well. Campo commands the stage quite well and is an absolute joy to watch. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Justin Moe. Credit: Bruce F Press Photography

Finally, we get to our hero, Eubie the Happy Elf, played skillfully by Justin Moe. Simply going on looks, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role other than Justin Moe but, look aside, he had me sold from the start. He was able to keep the energy up the entire 90 minutes and is absolutely believable as this character, giving his all and taking the role seriously enough to bring the audience into the story. He obviously understands his character’s objective and each choice he makes moves his character toward that goal of making sure Christmas is enjoyed by everyone, even a dark, salty town like Bluesville. Moe is a pleasure to watch with his strong vocal performance, and assured performance that makes him a distinct standout in this production.

Final though… Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf at Red Branch Theatre Company is a fun, feel-good holiday story that is a good break from the hustle and bustle of this season and it’s perfect for the family as a whole. The kids will adore it and the story is endearing for adults as well, reminding us what Christmas is all about. Take a break from the aforementioned hustle and bustle and take a trip down to Red Branch Theatre Company to join in on their merry making!

That’s what I thought about Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf, playing at Red Branch Theatre Company… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf will play through December 18 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 220-6517 or purchase them online.