Charmed to death

Lucky Stiff offers the best musical theater you'll find in town

Theatre Three producer and director Jac Alder owes Jason Drummond a favor. It seems the young SMU student told Alder to check out the musical release of an unknown comedy, Lucky Stiff. Alder not only bought the music, he staged the play. And it will probably turn out to be T3's best production this season.

Lucky Stiff is a tight, well-rehearsed, well-choreographed piece with a whimsical, cartoonish set and deliciously fun costumes. The story itself is, of course, ridiculous, and the first half particularly is just a tad too precious. But if you're a musical theater buff with an ear for melody and don't mind silly plot lines, this is your show.

The musical revolves around Mr. Harry Witherspoon, an English shoe salesman who is boring himself to tears. In the first few scenes, an exciting, albeit morbid, opportunity drops right in his lap. Witherspoon's uncle from Atlantic City is dead; he has bequeathed $6 million to his nephew with the stipulation that the young Witherspoon agree to take the "stiff"--dressed in a tuxedo, seated in a wheelchair, and stuffed by a taxidermist--to Monte Carlo for one last vacation, a wild fait accompli.

And so it goes. If Witherspoon fails to show his dead uncle a good time, all the money goes to a dog home in Brooklyn. Witherspoon is played by Michael Justis, an actor who has a few interesting features, not the least of which are his very tanned feet. Witherspoon's character is followed by an employee from the dog home, a retiring, bookish wallflower played by one of my favorite newcomers to the Dallas stage, Tabitha Woods. Both of them become more interesting as they fall in love.

But that's not until the second act. I was turned off by the first act--it suffers from a cloying tone and some over-the-top acting and direction. The characters are either saccharine sweet or super villainous, and seem to have as much nuance as Boris and Natasha.

The second act is funnier and the direction suitably self-aware; the acting is at times excessive and coy, but only appropriately so.

Lucky Stiff is a rare musical in that there is no talking. It is a musical in the strictest sense--it moves directly from one number to the next without any spoken conversation, and without missing a beat. Any musical theater buff should get a hold of the recording even if you miss the T3 production. But I suggest you don't.

Jac Alder should definitely say goodbye to The Fantasticks and replace that tired annual holiday reprise with Lucky Stiff. Then he can stuff those hideous costumes and dusty characters in his actor's trunk and bring his audience something fresh.

I feel about Brendene, Jill Peters' long-lived, one-woman show, the same way I felt about Stephen Wade's Banjo Dancing, the CATS of folkloric, one-man shows.

Retire it. Let it go. Move on.
Jill Peters, a.k.a. Brendene, is certainly talented. By the second act of her show, now playing at Theatre Three Below, it is also clear she has a nice voice. But her Texan version of Shirley Valentine, an overweight housewife in the midst of a psychospiritual awakening, is patchy, patronizing, poorly written and edited, and essentially downbeat.

Brendene is described in the press materials as a "trailer housewife" and "cafeteria lady with aspersions of major stardom." Cute. The show has been called a wacky hybrid of MTV and Andy Griffith. You get the idea.

Peters has played Brendene many a time, and it's obvious this script has spent too much time being cut and pasted. New additions include such important material as updated malapropisms (She went to see a play called Midsummer Nice Dreams; she wants to go see Rearview of a Vampire, etc.) She wears the same Mexican embroidered housedress every day, with rollers in her hair and a bandana. She yells at her children to stop whatever it is they're doing, and folds and refolds laundry. She talks about missing Rescue 911 because she doesn't have a VCR to record it when she goes out.

One subplot involves her husband, who lost his arm in a motorcycle accident. He has since become a bongo-drumming, foreskin-grieving guy in the midst of a midlife crisis. In response, she attends an EST seminar and then a woman warrior workshop.

And I'm supposed to care.
It seems that Peters has tacked current events, such as the knee-banging Tonya Harding imbroglio, onto an old show to add a little life, but this corpse has been stinking for some time.

To make matters worse, lines like "Blacks don't wish they were white, dwarves don't wish they were tall, and I don't wish I was thin," are not only bewildering but offensive.

At the end of a long evening of half-baked send-ups of every movement from feminism to human potentialism, Peters makes it known that Brendene is in the works as a TV situation comedy. I cannot begin to assess whether it would succeed or fail on the tube. I only know it makes for uninspired, unintentionally depressing theater, and Peters' talents as a comedienne are squandered.

For more information, call Theatre Three at 871-3300.

 
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