LUCKY STIFF, Drury Lane Oakbrook. This 1988 traveling-corpse musical by the usually reliable team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on This Island) is as DOA as Weekend at Bernie’s. The story is based on the novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: in order to inherit $6 million, British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon must vacation with his uncle’s remains in Monte Carlo. While dutifully wheeling around the dead body, changing its clothes, and covering for its collapses, Harry meets dubious characters intent on invalidating the will, among them an equally repressed woman–a dog lover who wants the fortune to go to her shelter.
Even if you swallow the show’s one elaborately unpleasant “rolling” joke, this mini musical remains incompetently plotted, self-destructing in a messy, overcomplicated ending. A chase scene involving the corpse is remarkably unfocused and unfunny. And a dream sequence in which dogs persecute Harry comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. The serviceable but bland songs can’t distract from the contrived plot, however persuasively performed in Ray Frewen’s crackling staging.
Stephen Colella brings sad-sack sweetness to the beleaguered Harry, though his English accent comes and goes. Lucia Spina has fun as a clumsy, predatory mistress with myopia, and James Harms plays the title role with a dignity that escapes everyone else.