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The humor is deadpan, or just dead, in 'Lucky Stiff'

The humor is deadpan, or just dead, in 'Lucky Stiff'
To secure his inheritance, harried Harry (Brandon Parrish, second from right) tries to conceal the fact that his uncle (Vito Viscuso) is deceased from other vacationing guests (Claire Adams, Alastair James). (Michael Lamont)

The program notes for "Lucky Stiff" unabashedly proclaim it "a zany piece of fluff," and Actors Co-op's revival of this 1988 musical farce pursues that objective with single-minded intensity. Although an excellent case can be made that the current zeitgeist has us all begging for escapist relief, be advised: This show's cerebral demands could easily be met by its title character, who happens to be both deceased and far luckier than anyone trying to make sense of the plot.

Book writer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens' loopy farce revolves around an unexpected inheritance that promises to liberate milquetoast British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon (Brandon Parrish) from his dead-end life. The catch: In order to receive the fortune from the departed American relative he's never met, Harry must take his benefactor's corpse on a vacation to Monte Carlo, passing off the inert, wheelchair-propped Uncle Anthony (a gamely deadpan Vito Viscuso) as his invalid companion.

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The premise inevitably invites comparison to "Weekend at Bernie's," so in the interest of historical accuracy it should be noted that "Lucky Stiff" predated the film by a year. That is about the extent of scholarly analysis warranted by either.

Uncle Anthony's will specifies a sightseeing itinerary that the pair must follow to the minute. Otherwise, the entire fortune reverts to a canine shelter charity, whose fetching representative, Annabel Glick (Claire Adams), trails them in dogged pursuit, ready to pounce at any slip-up.

Harry's traumatic past persecution by his neighborhood hounds of hell unleashes a pack of pooch puns, and fur-ther heightens his resentment of crusading Annabel, who in turn snarls her contempt. In rom-com parlance, of course, that means the pair are destined for puppy love. Adding intermittent villainy, Uncle Anthony's rabid ex-girlfriend (Rory Patterson) has homicidal claws out for Harry.

The no-frills staging by Stephen Van Dorn services composer Stephen Flaherty's pop score with a live four-piece band under Taylor Stephenson's musical direction. While the ensemble sports some capable singing voices, the show lacks the kind of outsized musical-comedy personalities needed to coax howls from amiable mirth. The fact that this lightweight material isn't best-of-breed to begin with should be reason enough to give one paws.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Lucky Stiff’

Where: Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and Saturday June 17; ends June 18

Tickets: $34

Information: (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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