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The opening March 4 of "Lucky Stiff," Players de Noc's musical for the 2015-16 season, and the William Bonifas Theater is abuzz with activity.

Costumers, actors, techies, and lighting designers are running around doing all the things they do to bring together a production in the final days before it opens. Everyone is so busy it's hard to catch a moment to talk with someone, but after an hour and a half of running the show it's time for a break and I'm able to catch up with Robin Gavriloff.

 
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Gavriloff has been involved with Players for a couple of years now but playing Annabel Glick, the dog-loving New Yorker who follows Harry to Monte Carlo, is her first crack at a really large role.

"It has been a great experience working on stage with so many people that I have watched in shows in the past. Mark (Ammel), Jim and Lynn (Soderberg) and so many others. It's been just great learning from them," she said.

Gavriloff seems to be making the most of what she has learned as the second act starts, the cast picks up where they left off and jumps right back into a story that seems to have two speeds - fast and faster.

"Lucky Stiff" is a musical farce based on the 1983 novel "The man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo." A farce, by definition, is comedy that employs buffoonery and horseplay and characters involved in ridiculously improbable situations. "Lucky Stiff" lives up especially well to the "improbable situations" part of that definition in more ways than one.

The show follows an unusual, to say the least, series of events in the life of hum drum English shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon. Mark Ammel brings Harry to life with an authentic accent and sideburns to boot.

"There are a lot of tricky timing bits in this show and that makes it particularly difficult," said Ammel. "But that makes it rewarding as well when it comes together and we think people will really enjoy it."

It's pretty hard not to enjoy this show with the eccentric crew that Harry runs into as he tries to roll with the punches life is throwing him. These include a neurotic optometrist played by Tim Krebs, an overbearing Italian fellow portrayed by Pete Dzanbozoff and, perhaps most interestingly, the show's namesake, the "Lucky Stiff" played by Jim Soderberg.

I tried to speak with Jim for this story, but being a consummate method actor, he stayed in character and stared blankly into space so I went and talked to the crazy, gun-toting Jersey girl in the show, Rita LaPorta, played by his wife and a perennial favorite of Players' audiences, Lynn Soderberg.

"This is just a zany, madcap farce," she said. "It's so fun to play over-the-top characters and everyone is just doing great and my husband gets to play a dead body." There is a joke there somewhere but I don't think I'll touch it.

Bringing this cast together and guiding them through this whole process are a couple of Players' tried and true veterans, musical director Tom Knoll and director Ed Dwyer. Dwyer discovered the show on a trip into, of all places, Wisconsin.

"I saw a production at UW-Stevens Point and I loved it," he said.

And the rest is history. Or rather, it will be soon.

Players' production of "Lucky Stiff" is in its final week of rehearsals. Tech week (the week a show actually opens) looms and the cast and crew are ready for when the show opens in early March.

The production takes stage March 4-5 and 9-12 at 8 p.m., with a matinee performance on March 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available online at playersdenoc.org and at the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center during business hours. Remaining tickets will be sold at the box office starting a half hour prior to show time. This production is suitable for all ages.

By Larry Austin

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