It isn't often that audiences have an opportunity to enjoy a successful playwright's early works. Companies generally prefer to produce the proven hits.

Center Repertory Company, however, has provided just such as experience with its current production of "Lucky Stiff," at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

This musical murder mystery farce marks the first collaboration of writer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty. The two went on to pen such hits as "Ragtime," Seussical," and "Once On This Island."

While "Lucky Stiff" is very different from their later shows, it does give a glimpse of the duo's future potential.

Written in 1988, "Lucky Stiff" has its share of slamming doors and mistaken identities as a host of eccentric characters try to get their hands on former casino manager Anthony Hendon's ill-gotten $6 million.

Anthony's mild-mannered nephew (Keith Pinto) is set to inherit the loot if he just complies with his uncle's wishes to go on a vacation to Monte Carlo. The catch is he has to take his uncle's dead body (a hilarious Joel Roster) along with him.

And, if he doesn't take Uncle Anthony to all the specified attractions at the specified time, the money reverts to uncle's favorite dog charity. Of course, the charity has sent along a representative (Dani Marcus) to watch the nephew.

Meanwhile, the casino owner's gun-toting wife (an outrageous Linda DiVito) shows up looking for the cash with numerous denizens of Monte Carlo also taking up the hunt.

Based on the book, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," the offbeat musical has the benefit of Robert Barry Fleming's wonderfully creative direction and a highly skilled cast that also includes: Tielle Baker, Evan Boomer, Taylor Jones, Marcus Klinger, Benjamin Pither and Colin Thomson playing multiple characters.

Kelly Tighe once again raises the bar for clever set designs and Christine Crook's colorful costumes are a delight. While there are certainly many hilarious moments and sharp choreography by Fleming (especially the dream sequence), the musical, itself, lacks the cohesion that Ahrens and Flaherty would later develop into award-winning musicals.

"Lucky Stiff" continues through Oct. 7. Call 925-943-SHOW (925-943-7469) or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

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    For more than a century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has captured the imagination of many with his adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Now, the Orinda Starlight Village Players offer a glimpse of a seldom-performed Doyle masterpiece, "The Speckled Band."

    The show runs through Sept. 29, at the Orinda Community Park Amphitheatre and marks Charles Guitron's directorial debut.

    Could an ill-tempered stepfather actually have murdered one of his deceased wife's twin daughters to keep her from inheriting her portion of the mother's estate? And, is the remaining stepdaughter in danger as well? Find out in this spellbinding tale.

    For tickets, call 925-528-9225 or go to www.orsvp.org.

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    As part of the Eugene O'Neill Festival in Danville, local historian and former Danville Mayor Beverly Lane will give an insightful look at Danville in 1937 when Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill moved to the quiet oasis.

    She will discuss the purchase of the Las Trampas property, the building of Tao House, and the O'Neill's relationship with their neighbors in a free lecture at 10 a.m. Sept. 15, at the Village Theatre, 233 Front St., in Danville.

    Also part of the Eugene O'Neill Festival, Role Players Ensemble opens its season with O'Neill's wistful "Ah, Wilderness!"

    Directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes, the show runs through Sept. 22, at The Village Theatre in Danville. The show features Francois Barrilleaux, Alex Cowan, Craig Eychner, Katy Hidalgo, Dustin Katz, Eden Neuendorf, Nancy Sale, Michael Sally, Sarah Sloan, Kendall Tieck, Janette Wallen and Davern Wright.

    Call 925-314-3400 or go to www.villagetheatreshows.com.

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    There's one last chance to catch a musical at Woodminster Amphitheatre, where the views alone are worth the price of admission. The company's final show "Cats" runs Sept. 13—16, at Joaquin Miller Park, high in the Oakland Hills.

    For tickets to the show, call 510-531-9597 or go to www.woodminster.com.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.

    Costumer Christine Weiland and her able assistants began putting together all of the yarn and braided fabric to make more than 30 "cats" for the show in April. She estimates that each costume required 10-12 hours of work. For details about how the costumes were made, go to www.woodminster.com/webpages/photoGalleries/2012/Catsconstruction0812.html.

    For tickets to the show, call 510-531-9597 or go to www.woodminster.com.

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    Ready to rumble? Bay Area Stage Productions continues its "West Side Story" through Sept. 23, at the Bay Terrace Theatre, 51 Daniels Ave., in Vallejo. Call 707-561-1882 or go to www.bayareastage.org.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.