Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lucky Stiff is A Class Act

Stir in basic youth, loads of talent, love of musicals, and add a little slapstick, and you come up with A Class Act's Spring 2008 production of Lucky Stiff by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. A Class Act is an enterprising group of NYU Steinhardt Music Education Students who produce and perform musical theatre. They prove that musical theatre can be produced anywhere. They never let a little thing like lack of space block them from achieving spectacular results.

Under the imaginative staging of Marc Beja, the cast transformed the community center space of NYU's Catholic Center into Off-Broadway magic, making music and dance in a most unlikely venue. Playing to a packed house, the cast's enthusiasm propelled the show along with a crisp, ensemble-like performance on a chameleon-like set that ranged from a shoe shop to the casinos of Monte Carlo, using spotlights to cleverly and instantly change locales. Scene sets were changed by the cast almost as part of choreographic design, perhaps developed by group effort and brought to fruition by two stage managers, Ryan McClintock and Lizz Tetu, who certainly had their hands full with a passionate cast and a set that somehow survived the bash and batter though thoroughly abused by the action.

Samantha Esher's musical direction shaped the pace of the numbers, always focused on entertainment and fun as the recipe that kept the audience amused and bewildered. The Band (Jason Burrow, Piano; Andrew Long, Keyboard; Garrett Lanzet, Percussion) gave just the right blend to provide a sense of seamless transition and musical support.

The zany cast was just the right mix: Joseph Merlo, the skeptical, irascible but likable hero Harry Witherspoon, wheeling his deceased uncle (Randy Lesko) around the world; the dazzling, charismatic Marissa McCue, Tony's legally blind lover Rita LaPorta, responsible for shooting Tony (Harry's Uncle); Rita's orthodontic brother, maniacally acted by Michael Montalbano who runs off with the French Sex Bomb Dominique as flaunted flawlessly by Marie Mayes; melodious beauty Megan O'Brien, the ingenuous rep of the dog charity; Justin Dayhoff, masquerading as a playboy, who miraculously unmasks himself at the end as the true Tony, Harry's affable, not-so-dead uncle; Jessica Goldberg and Lia Peros, effortlessly popping in and out of scenes as spinsters, nurses, landladies. We cannot mention the cast without special notice of the fabulous comic talents of Andy Kao, (Lorry driver, Lawyer, and Nun) who always added a touch of surprise in his appearances. Hats off to director Marc Beja who managed to translate mayhem into a coherent madness. Despite the madcap antics of the cast, the show maintains a clear and comprehensible presence.

NYU Steinhardt's A Class Act has amassed an impressive history. It is growing in reputation and influence, especially as it has managed to overcome enormous obstacles to its existence. Made up of students and future music educators, A Class Act has kept alive that basic energy of those who love performing and entertainment in the spirit of "Hey, let's put on a show!" Over the last few years, these classy students have produced musical theatre that showcases talents on many levels. One hopes that somewhere A Class Act has started a website that documents its remarkable achievements over the years.

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