“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Not only is that a line from the musical “Lucky Stiff,” it’s a good mantra for the Allen Community Theatre Department this year.
The students will deliver their final performance of the school year at 7:30 tonight through Saturday at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. It’s a year that has seen them through a global pandemic and a new instructor, Trevor Belt, at the helm.
The social distancing measures will continue. Audience members as well as the cast will wear face masks.
The show is great therapy after a difficult day — or year.
The play is about London shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon, played by the lanky and versatile Maxwell Kays, who learns that his Uncle Tony, someone he’s never met, has died and left him an inheritance.
Of course, there’s a catch. He will receive $6 million if he takes his uncle’s corpse to Monte Carlo for a week’s worth of adventure. If he fails to adhere to every little detail, such as pink satin sheets on the bed or a red carnation in his dead uncle’s suit pocket, the money goes to the Universal Dog Home.
Think: Weekend at Bernie’s, but with music.
Jonathan Wall, with an assist from Blake Hess, plays the wheelchair-bound corpse. It’s a masterful physical performance, as the body flops around at the most inconvenient times.
Kays tackles the role with exceptional skill, whether he’s casually lifting his uncle’s body or frantically pushing a wheelchair while running for his life.
Along the way, Harry and his dead uncle encounter a colorful cast of characters.
Lexie Vega, earnest and enchanting, is the perfect match. She’s in Monte Carlo on behalf of the Universal Dog Home, not-so-subtly sneaking around and watching Harry to see if he fails to honor his uncle’s final wishes.
Kays and Vega are well-paired with impeccable timing and heart-felt chemistry. Their voices harmonize perfectly through the various musical numbers, especially in the romantic “Nice.” It’s more than nice; it’s sweet.
There’s trouble ahead, though, as Uncle Tony’s crazed lover Rita La Porta arrives determined to find the $6 million in diamonds she stole from her husband. Rachel Shaffer shines as Rita, belting powerful songs and eventually running around the stage in a French maid’s outfit, brandishing a gun.
She blamed her crimes on her brother, Vincent. Parker Smith relishes the role of the beleaguered optometrist, trying to keep his sister in check.
Harry and his uncle also keep running into the hulking Luigi Gaudi, played with dapper charm by Jake Anderson. He keeps trying to insert himself into their adventures, sending Harry fleeing in alarm as he tries to keep his secrets.
Other cast members play multiple roles.
Illliana Gallardo delights as the nosy landlady. She commands the stage during an eerie, psychedelic dream sequence but is at her bubbly best during the bouncy “Good to Be Alive.”
JieJie Means seduces the audience with a sultry song-and-dance performance in a costume that drips with fringe. She also shows her versatility alongside Gallardo.
River Hess, the man of 1,000 voices, shifts ably from one role to another. He’s serious as an attorney, nervous as a patient and tres French as a bellhop.
Bryce Nathaniel gets a bit jazzy, delivering a very Vegas vibe as he welcomes the cast to The Club Continental.
The second half of the show is a zany, energetic free-for-all as it all comes to a head.
Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students. Allen students, faculty and staff are free. Seating is limited and tickets are available online at bowluscenter.org, in person at the door or over the phone at 620-365-4765.