Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

NSMT's third show of their current season is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels".This hysterical musical, based on the popular 1988 hit MGM movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, follows two very different con artists working their schemes on the French Riviera. The Broadway show opened on March 3, 2005 and ran until September 3, 2006 and has music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Jeffrey Lane. Their high jinks result in a friendly competition to see which one can swindle an innocent heiress out of her fortune. Audiences will roar with laughter when they see how far each one is willing to go to win the bet and for the audience to be transported for a night of music, dancing and high society high jinks. The show centers on two con men living on the French Riviera, the suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson, who makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money, collaborating with Andre Thibault, the French police chief, and a small-time crook named Freddy Benson, who, more humbly, swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother's failing health. After meeting on a train they unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn't big enough for the two of them. So they make a bet: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young heiress, triumphs and the other must leave town. What follows are a series of schemes, masquerades and double-crosses in which nothing may ever be exactly what it seems. Three women play an important part in the show. Muriel of Omaha, a woman with some cash who is hoping to find love becomes involved with Andre, Jolene, of Oklahoma who is proud of it and intends to rope herself a man and take him home. The third one is American Soap Queen, Christine Colgate is a little naive and clumsy, with her heart bigger than her brain. The show has a fun twist that will keep audiences laughing, humming and guessing what happens till the end of the show. Mark Martino directs this stylish, intelligent, rollickingly fun new musical with a 19 member cast excellently while music director Steven Freeman and choreographer, Denis Jones supply the music and dance steps for this talented cast. A thunderous standing ovation at the close of the show is its reward.

Owner and producer Bill Hanney and producing artistic director Evans Haile have another fantastic hit show on their hands. The sets by Michael Schweikardt and costumes by Jose M. Rivera are very lavish reflecting the wealth of the Riviera while the songs extend and advance the plot so the audience needs to listen to every word to figure out what is happening. Mark helms this contemporary musical comedy with a deft hand, making the crazy characters come to life and at the same time makes them likeable to the audience with a tongue in cheek style. Some examples of this occur when an usher in the audience sings about being seduced by Lawrence, when Freddy is thrown down the stairs in his wheelchair, when Freddy is thrown into the opening in the center of the stage and when Muriel sings about being needed in the second act. He also pays attention to the different accents needed in this show including French, German, British and southern as well he gives his cast many bits of shtick to perform especially when Freddy is miraculously healed by the phony doctor. David Yazbek's music and lyrics are reminiscent of Cole Porter's clever lyrics of the past. Steven not only makes the performers shine in their numbers but plays the keyboards and conducts a wonderful 11 piece orchestra, too. The overture sounds like the Pink Panther theme with the ensemble doing a splendid dance to it. Denis' dances include ballroom, a soft shoe, a Fred and Ginger type, a tango, a mambo, a country western style and all excellently executed by this talented cast.

The two leading men in this show are superb in their roles with their singing, acting and dancing. Lawrence is splendidly played by Brent Barrett, who acts urbane and debonair ala James Bond and he looks like a young John Raitt. The character is a lot like Professor Higgins when he tries to transform Freddy into a debonair thief like he is when Lawrence's maid and butler try to dress him ala Eliza Doolittle but in a suit. Freddy moons the audience in one of the scenes while they are trying to dress him, garnering much laughter. Not wanting to give away too much of the specifics of the show so not to ruin the twists and turns, 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 with some of his 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 as well as insulting George W. Bush while getting rid of Jolene, too. One of the funny lines in this scene include hiding his farts in a mason jar. "Ruffhousin' mit Shuffhausen" is when Lawrence pretends he is an Austrian doctor to cure Freddy's paralysis by tickling Freddy's foot then whips him with a stem of a flower and the song sounds like "Simple Little System" from "Bells Are Ringing". He, D. B. and Brynn yodel in this song while D. B. covers his pain with his yodel. "The More We Dance" is another con by Lawrence because Freddy told Christine that he is paralyzed with Dance Fever after catching his girl friend dancing with another man so Lawrence and Christine dance together. Brett and Brynn do an excellent samba with the chorus. "Love Sneaks In" is a beautiful ballad, Brett sings when Lawrence falls for Christine hook, line and sinker. Brett does a fabulous job as this debonair character. Freddy is the complete opposite of Lawrence, a low down crass con artist. He is marvelously played by D. B. Bonds who is tall, blond and handsome. His character is very much like an athletic Nathan Lane. He cons women by saying he needs money for his sick grandmother and he tells one woman he wants to put a new hip under tree for her. Some of his funniest bits are when he moons the audience during "Chimp in a Suit", chews beef jerky on the floor, pretending to be demented Ruprecht (has to be seen to be believed), in the wheelchair when he zooms around the stage like Sheridan Whiteside from "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and when he lies exhausted after crawling up the stairway and when he is thrown down it, too. His incredible tenor voice is heard first in a jazz number "Great Big Stuff" where Freddy wants all the things money can buy and with the chorus members he shows off all his desires in the dance. His ballad with Christine when Freddy pretends to be unable to walk is "Nothing Is Too Wonderful to be True". "Love Is My Legs" is when Christine tells Freddy she is his motivation to walk again. This number sounds like a 60's rock song and he finally stands and wobbles over to the bed with his shoes turned sideways after her miraculous cure for him. D. B.'s next jazz number is "Son of Great Big Stuff" as Freddy thinks he won the bet then decides to seduce Christine. He runs around in his boxer shorts near the end of the show while wearing a woman's robe."The Reckoning" is where Freddy tells Lawrence what really happened and "Dirty Rotten Number" is when they get what's coming to them and sing it with Andre. They become duped instead of duping. The show ends with both men in beautiful white suits sitting in lawn chairs, wondering what to do when tourists from Greece show up.

Brynn O'Malley who plays a dim bulb is the American heiress of a soap company, Christine. She is a gorgeous brunette who wears a blonde wig for this role and uses her fabulous soprano voice as she enters the stage with her luggage and the chorus in "Here I Am" which is a rousing song reminiscent of Cole Porter's "Friendship". Brynn sings "Love Is My Legs" and the glorious ballad "Nothing Is Too Wonderful" with D. B. in which Christine claims she wants to help Freddy out of the goodness of her heart. She starts the song with lovely words and he joins in on his verse with made up rhyming words. Brynn does a terrific job as this dumb gal who might not be as dumb as she appears. Some of her funniest bits comes when she accidentally knocks out Freddy, stumbles and is klutzy. She has a funny southern accent at the end of the show. Andre is well played by John Scherer. He does a marvelous French accent throughout the show as this shady police inspector. John's song is called "Chimp in a Suit" where he makes fun of Freddy being too low class for Lawrence to take him on as a pupil, calling him a minkey in the song. This number stops the show with sustained laughter from the audience because it reminds them of Inspector Clouseau from "Pink Panther". He has a duet "Like Zis/Like Zat" with the character of Muriel which is a hoot, too and they do a Fred and Ginger dance to 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. Lynne Wintersteller, a lovely redhead, plays Muriel excellently and makes her first appearance in the show on a balcony after a romp in the hay with Lawrence. She uses her topnotch voice in "What Was a Woman To Do?" after the con. It is also sung by numerous other women conned by Lawrence. After meeting Andre several times, they decide they like each other and they sing the duet called "Like Zis Like Zat" which contains risque lines of them spending the night together while they wear sunglasses. She and John dance through the chorus in "The More I Dance". Last but not least is the scene stealing lovely blonde, Jennifer Cody as the very wealthy Jolene who decides to marry Lawrence. She sings "Oklahoma?" and squeals and kicks up her heels like a real country girl, doing a show stopping country western dance with the ensemble. She shoots her gun to force Lawrence to do the two step with them. Jolene is reminiscent of Ado Annie from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" but Yazbek proves it isn't their song with funny lyrics like "I'm going to shoot those fuckers". The crazy antics among Jennifer, Brett and D. B. are outstanding, too in the Ruprecht song. I reviewed Jennifer as one of the hilarious stepsisters in "Cinderella" at NSMT in 2005. Kudos to the chorus for their topnotch singing and dancing. A word of praise to the Backstage Bistro for their fabulous food for the after party. The food was delicious and plentiful including crabcakes, cookies and many scrumptious items. So for a fantastic rendition of a contemporary musical, be sure to catch "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" before the con ends at North Shore.

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (21 September - 10 October)
@ 62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY MA
1 (978)232-7200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide