Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Dirty Rottten Scoundrels"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The last musical of Theatre-by-the-Sea's 76th season is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels".It is a Broadway musical with music and lyrics by David Yazbek (The Full Monty) and book by Jeffrey Lane and is based on the 1988 movie comedy that starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The Broadway show opened in March 3, 2005 and ran until September 3, 2006. The story concerns a handsome suave, debonair con man named Lawrence Jameson who is elegantly wooing and cleverly swindling rich women on the French Riviera. He has had much success and is at the top of his game, collaborating with Andre Thibault, the French police chief. Then one day on a train, he meets Freddy Benson, an aspiring con man, a small-town boorish grifter who wants to learn at the master's feet. He swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother's failing health. Jameson agrees to take him on but eventually decides there isn't room in this town for the both of them. They clash, eventually collaborate and finally end up in a competition. So they make a bet on what they consider to be the ultimate con, and the loser must leave town. They decide to con a newly arrived American heiress, Christine Colgate out of $50,000. Freddy dressed as an Army sergeant pretends to be paralyzed from the waist down who needs to borrow the money for treatment by a celebrated Austrian psychiatrist, and when Lawrence discovers his scheme he pretends to be the doctor, insisting Freddy's condition is a psychosomatic rather than a neurological disorder, one he can cure with the stipulation that the money is paid directly to him. All of this plays out with a lot of fun involved and also some romance. Three women figure prominently in the show. Muriel of Omaha, a woman with some cash who is hoping to find love and she becomes romantically involved with Andre. Jolene, an Oklahoman who is proud of it and intends to rope herself a man and take him home. The American Soap Queen, Christine Colgate, is a little naive and clumsy, with a heart bigger than her brain.The show has a fun twist at the end that will keep audiences laughing, humming and guessing to the very end of the show. Amiee Turner directs this stylish, intelligent, rollickingly fun new musical with a 19 member cast excellently while music director Andrew Smithson and choreographer,Chris Saunders supply the music and dance steps for this talented cast. A resounding standing ovation at the close of this show is its reward.

Owner and producer Bill Hanney, Producing Artistic Director Amiee Turner and Managing producer Joel Kipper make this contemporary show into a musical masterpiece with sets, costumes, lighting and sound. They spare no expense on their final show this season. Amiee also directs the show splendidly with music director at the helm and choreographer supplying the topnotch dances in the show which fit in with the tone of the show. (She always does an excellent job having reviewed her past directorial work, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in 2007 and "George M" and "Evita" last year and "Crazy for You" this year.) The songs extend and advance the plot so you need to listen to every word to figure out what is happening. She gives her cast many bits of shtick to perform especially when Freddy is miraculously healed by the phony doctor. Amiee pays close attention to the different exotic accents needed by the cast ranging from French, German, British and Southern and she helms this contemporary musical comedy with a deft hand, making the crazy characters come to life but also making them likable to the audience with it told tongue in cheek style. (An usher in the audience sings about being seduced by Lawrence and Muriel explains she is needed for Act 2 and comments when the balcony is moved with her on it.) David Yazbek's music and lyrics are reminiscent of Cole Porter's clever lyrics of the past. Andrew not only makes the performers shine but conducts a seven piece orchestra while playing the lead keyboards. The overture opening sounds like "The Pink Panther" theme. Chris' dances include ballroom, soft shoe, Fred and Ginger type, a tango, a mambo, a country western dance, all excellently executed by this talented cast. The lighting design is by Paul Toben while the incredible set design is by Ray Recht with it looking like an European seaside city with palm trees and stone terraces, a villa, hotel room and lobby and a French villa complete with stairway. You actually feel like you are visiting the Riviera. Awesome originally designed costumes are by Marcia Zammarelli including evening gowns worn by the women and the men's fancy suits, trashy Southern costumes for the Jolene song.

The two leading men in this show are superb in their roles with their singing, acting and dancing. Lawrence is played excellently by Al Bundonis (he is currently appearing in the Off-Broadway musical "Sessions".) who acts urbane and debonair reminiscent of James Bond. The character is a lot like Professor Higgins when he tries to transform Freddy into a debonair thief like he is especially when he and his butler try to dress him a la Eliza Doolittle but in a suit. Not wanting to give away too much of the specifics of the show, I'll describe the musical numbers. "Give Them What They Want" is a patter song telling the audience that the women asked to be swindled by him when he poses as the exiled prince of a foreign country. Other scams include him posing as a dentist, a British naval officer and psychiatrist. "All About Ruprecht" is where Lawrence explains about his brother's mental condition, keeping him locked in the basement. (Funny lines include hiding his farts in a mason jar) He insults George W. Bush while getting rid of Jolene in this number. Ruffhousin' mit Shuffhausen is when Lawrence pretends he is a doctor to cure Freddy's paralysis. It sounds like "Simple Little System'' from "Bells are Ringing". He tickles Freddy's foot then whips him with a stem of a flower. He, Jason and Lisa yodel in this song with Jason covering his pain with the yodel. "The More We Dance" is another con by Lawrence because Freddy tole Christine that he is paralyzed with Dance Fever after catching his girlfriend dancing with another man. Al and Lisa do an excellent samba with the chorus during this number. "Love Sneaks In" is a beautiful ballad, Al sings when the character falls for Christine hook, line and sinker. Al does a topnotch job playing this urbane character. Freddy is the complete opposite of Lawrence, a low down crass con artist. He is fantastically played by Jason Gillman who understudied the role on Broadway and was able to play it there 80 times. His character is very much like an athletic Nathan Lane. He cons women with his needing money for his sick grandmother scam. One of his funniest bits is in the wheelchair when he zooms around the stage like Sheridan Whiteside from "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and lying exhausted after crawling up the stairway. His incredible voice is heard in "Great Big Stuff" which is a jazz song sung by Freddy who wants all the things money can buy with the chorus showing off all he desires in their dance. Their is a ballad with Christine. "Love Is My Legs" is when Freddy pretends to be unable to walk and it sounds like a 60's rock song. He finally stands and wobbles over to the bed after her miraculous cure for him. "Son of Great Big Stuff" is another jazzy song by Freddy who is in Christine's hotel room thinking he has won the bet when he decides to seduce her with "Nothing Is Too Wonderful for Words".Jason runs around in his boxer shorts near the end of the show wearing a sheer pink woman's robe. "The Reckoning" is where Freddy tells Lawrence what really happened. and "Dirty Rotten Number" is when they get what is coming to them. They become duped instead of duping. The show ends with both men in beautiful white suits sitting in lawn chairs, wondering what to do next when a new batch of tourists from Greece show up!

Lisa Yuen who currently plays Rachael on "All My Children" is a gorgeous brunette who plays a dim bulb in this show, the American heiress of a soap company. Using her fantastic soprano singing voice she enters the stage with her luggage and the chorus in "Here I Am". It is a rousing song like Cole Porter's Friendship song. The gorgeous ballad "Nothing Is Too Wonderful" when Christine expresses her desire to help Freddy out of the goodness of her heart. She begins the ballad with lovely words and he joins in on his verse with made up rhyming words. Lisa does a marvelous job as the dumb gal who might not be as dumb as she appears. One of her funniest bits comes when she accidentally steps on a piece of her luggage, killing her dog. Andre is well played by Christopher Swan who played Hysterium in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at TBTS in 2007. He does a marvelous French accent throughout the show playing the shady police inspector. Christopher's song is called "Chimp in a Sit" when he makes fun of Freddy being too low class for Lawrence to take him on as a pupil, calling him a minkey in it. One of the first women, we meet is Muriel Eubanks of Omaha, a tourist in France who falls for Lawrence's fake prince routine, giving him all her jewelry. Muriel is wonderfully played by Stacey Geer who I acted with in "A Christmas Carol" at the Newport Playhouse back in 1985. She first appears on her balcony wrapped in a sheet after a romp in the hay with Lawrence "What Was a Woman to Do?". It is sung by Muriel and the ladies that Lawrence swindled. After meeting several times Andre decides he really likes her singing the duet, "Like Zis Like Dat". They also have some risque funny lines about their drunken night together with them uttering "Our legs were wrapped around each other" while wearing sunglasses. Last but not least is the scene stealing Rachel Rice as the very wealthy, Jolene who decides to marry Lawrence. She sings "Oklahoma?" as Jolene squeals and kicks up her heels like a real country girl, doing a show stopping country western number with the ensemble and Al. She reminds you of Ado Annie from "Oklahoma" by Rodgers and Hammerstein but to prove it isn't their version Yazbek gives Jolene the comic lyric of "I'm going to shoot those fuckers". The crazy antics among Al, Jason and Rachel in the "Ruprecht" song is hilarious, too. The other cast members play various roles throughout the show and sing and dance up a storm. Press night isn't complete without the sumptuous buffet prepared by chef, Duane Crowe and his beautiful wife, Karleen at the Bistro by the Sea. (Their son, Adam who is an actor and choreographer is one of the bartenders as well as one of the waiters.) The delectable food included chicken wings, pasta salad and salad assorted desserts including fruit and chocolate chip cake. So for a fabulous close to their 76th season, catch "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" before the con ends at Matunuck. (They announced their season for next year with the shows, "A Chorus Line", "Hello Dolly", "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Full Monty".)

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (12 August - 6 September)
THEATRE BY THE SEA
364 Card's Pond Road, MATUNUCK RI
1 (401)782-TKTS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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