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'Lucky Stiff' starts off Civic Theatre season with a bang

| Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

New Kensington Civic Theatre's season-opening production might have all the elements of a typical musical comedy.

Cast member Katie Houser promises, though, there is nothing "typical" about "Lucky Stiff," a murder-mystery farce being staged today through Sunday at Penn State New Kensington, Upper Burrell, in collaboration with the campus drama department.

"It's unlike anything the audience has ever seen," says Houser, the Pittsburgh resident who portrays ingenue Annabel Glick. "How many musicals revolve around a corpse in a wheelchair for the entire performance?" she asks.

Think "Weekend at Bernie's," suggests Josh List of Greensburg, who has the lead male role of Harry Witherspoon, a down-on-his luck Englishman whose fortunes have the opportunity to change dramatically.

It is based on Michael Butterworth's 1983 novel, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."

Witherspoon learns he has inherited $6 six million from an uncle, Anthony Hendon, whom he never has met. In order to get the money, however, he first must fulfill his late relative's request to be taken on one last vacation to Monte Carlo.

Should he not complete the task, the mild-mannered Witherspoon will forfeit the windfall to his uncle's favorite charity, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn.

So, Harry leaves for Monte Carlo with his dead uncle, a mysterious heart-shaped box he must guard and a cassette tape of instructions.

"If you are not a theater regular, this is a great show to get your feet wet," says Alyssa Bruno of Allegheny Township, who is making her Civic Theatre directorial debut. "There is music, dancing, comedy, murder-mystery, beautiful women, romance and a wild-goose chase."

The cast is "amazing," she adds. "They are hard working, and can handle anything we throw at them. This is truly an ensemble show. The little parts are what give it its charm and there are lots of them."

Behind the footlights

While the Penn State drama club is not represented on stage, the audience will see their "technical magic" behind the scenes, Bruno says.

She believes the Civic Theatre's collaboration with the students is important because theater is a collaborative art form. "Without a team effort, it wouldn't exist," she reminds. "I got my start in theater on the Penn State New Kensington stage with a collaborative productive of 'The Sound of Music.' and it changed my life."

Bruno, says cast member Paul Romito of Upper Burrell, brings an impressive level of energy and excitement to the production, and Laura Wurzell Delmont expresses that in the choreography.

For his role as the dead uncle, Romito says he tries to be as flexible as possible, "as the cast plays with me as they wish." "Uncle Anthony somehow sings and dances at various times in the musical," he says.

This action-packed show will keep the audience guessing what will happen next, promises Amanda Morse of Greensburg, who plays the manipulative Rita La Porta. "The characters are simply larger than life. This is one of those shows that can make me laugh no matter how often I have seen or listened to it," she says.

This is the Seton Hill University senior's first time with the Civic Theatre. "The cast, crew and director are probably one of the most amazing teams I have ever worked with," she says.

Dom Palmieri of Hempfield, as the mysterious Luigi Gaudi, another cast member making his Civic Theatre debut, also is impressed with the level of professionalism he has found with the community theater. He finds the show "hilarious."

"I'll probably be biting my tongue to keep myself from laughing," he says.

Josh List sings first tenor in Palmieri's doo wop a cappella group, the Streetlights.

Max Moio, a Washington Township native now living in Oakland, is having a blast in his role as Vinnie Di Ruzzio, an optometrist from New Jersey who is put into a most uncomfortable position by his sister, Rita La Porta.

"I always try to bring real emotion to my characters. Live musical theater is one of the most beautiful and captivating ways to share emotions with people," he says. "It's obvious that everyone is having a great time doing something they love. That's my favorite aspect of community theater."

Additional Information:

'Lucky Stiff'

When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Forum Theatre, Penn State, New Kensington, Upper Burrell

Admission: $17; $15, seniors and students

Details: 724-339-3140; www.nkct.info

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