He's Coming Up the Stairs!

 

A hypochondriac heiress overhears the plot to have her whacked. Trust us, you'll laugh.

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By Eileen Spiegler

If you feel like a nightcap after dinner, Empire Stage has whipped up a little number that will hit the spot.

In its first summer season, the Fort Lauderdale company is premiering He's Coming Up the Stairs!, a comedy written by Empire producing partner Garet Scott and directed by Kevin Thomsen, co-creator of MTV's satirical cartoon series Spy Groove.

The fizzy concoction is, as Scott says, perfect for summer: tastes great, less filling.

The play hangs loosely, tongue-in-cheekily on the plot of the 1948 classic suspense film Sorry, Wrong Number, in which an invalid inadvertently overhears plans for her murder. Not to worry. Before you can say Barbara Stanwyck, it quickly degenerates into hilarious absurdity and camps up the noir with kitsch.

Empire has taken over the cozy space formerly occupied by Sol Theatre. The seating, bookended by couches that give it a lounge-y feel, goes well with the onstage chaise over which headliner Brooks Braselman drapes herself before bounding into the audience and slinking between the rows.

The audience good-naturedly becomes part of the act as Braselman sings, mutters asides (one of the funniest unscripted bits occurred when a giant faux diamond flew off her finger opening night) and tosses an invisible prop to a front-row occupant -- who mimed catching it.

Hypochondriac heiress Sally Winston, played with unflagging energy by Braselman, is clad in leopard pajamas, surrounded by pill (and wine) bottles and may be on her last legs. She preens, scolds her nurse (``Why must the little people be so vexellacious?'') and peeks through the ``window treatments,'' fretting about how the New York social scene gathered at Ivana's (no last name required) is getting on without her.

Braselman's four fellow cast members play a variety of roles with a delicious dollop of cheese. Empire Stage partner David R. Gordon is Sally's cheating husband, Jeff, and one of the killer goons. Emily Shaffer plays Jeff's mistress, Kimba (``Kimba? With that name she doesn't need a husband; she needs Siegfried and Roy,'' Sally mugs), young Sally in flashbacks and the nurse. Vance Julian Barber does several stock roles -- the father, the butler, the bad guy -- each with a different funny mustache. Scott does a couple as well, but her sendup of claws-out Ivana deserves special note: ``You do not know about ze Kimba?'' she purrs in mock surprise after spilling to Sally.

And if you want to talk about cheese, Sally, mooning over wayward hubby, croons Delta Dawn and Cher hit Dark Lady. In a funny line likely to be lost on anyone born after 1970, she tells a masked gunman, ``You could be Jean-Claude Killy for all I know. Who knows what happened to him after the '68 Olympics.''

Braselman and company really work it, but the operative word here is play. Empire Stage brings the fun, and, as Sally tells her nurse, the least you can do is accessorize.

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