Touring "Scoundrels" Amuses but Doesn't Romp
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"
Book by Jeffrey Lane; music and lyrics by David Yazbek; based on the film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" written by Dale Launer and Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning; scenic design by David Rockwell; costume design by Gregg Barnes; lighting design by Kenneth Posner; sound design by Acme Sound Partners; orchestrations by Harold Wheeler; vocal music arrangements by Ted Sperling and David Yazbek; dance music arrangements by Zane Mark; conductor, Steven Bishop; music direction and incidental music by Ted Sperling; choreographed by Jerry Mitchell; directed by Jack O'Brien
Cast in order of appearance:
Andre Thibault, Drew McVety
Lawrence Jameson, Tom Hewitt
Muriel Eubanks, Kim Shriver
Conductor, Jeremy Davis
Renee, Christine Bokhour
Freddy Benson, D.B. Bonds
Jolene Oakes, Paige Pardy
Hotel Manager, Christian Whelan
Sailor #1, Tally Sessions
Sailor #2, Christian Whelan
Nikos, Christian Whelan
Performances: Now through March 18 at The Opera House in Boston, Mass.
Box Office: Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787, www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com, or The Opera House at 539 Washington Street and The Colonial Theatre at 106 Boylston Street, Boston
The sets are a little leaner, the music a little slower, the acting a little calmer, and the impact a little softer in the national tour of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" currently at The Opera House in Boston through March 18. While still clever, crass and sophisticated all at the same time, this scaled down version of the Jeffrey Lane-David Yazbek charmer somehow lacks the no-holds-barred joie de vivre that lifted the Broadway production from mundane comedy to heavenly hilarity.
Based on the 1988 movie of the same name starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin which was itself based on the 1964 movie "Bedtime Story" starring David Niven and Marlon Brando the musical adaptation of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" actually improves upon the original material. Catchy songs ranging from suave jazz tunes to slapstick burlesques to '60s pop send ups to surprisingly romantic ballads add delicious appeal to the story of two arrogant but lovable con artists who make a living on the French Riviera fleecing beautiful and wealthy women out of their money, their jewels, and sometimes their hearts. When the two the older, smoother, and high-stakes operator Lawrence Jameson and the younger, coarser, penny-ante grifter Freddy Benson find that the Côte d'Azur isn't big enough for the both of them, they enter into a winner-takes-all bet to see who can con the lovely but dim "American Soap Queen" Christine Colgate out of 50 grand. Mayhem ensues as each scheme is trumped by another more elaborate until the lives of both the markers and the marked become irrevocably entwined.
In the Broadway production (I saw the second cast of Jonathan Pryce as Lawrence, Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy, and Rachel York as Christine), Lawrence and Freddy were opposites but equals, each one raising the bar for the other as the mania escalated. Here on tour, Tom Hewitt dominates. Only his Lawrence (along with Paige Pardy as the frighteningly madcap Oklahoma crude heiress Jolene Oakes he tries to swindle) seem to be having the inspired fun that the show's cornball vaudeville routines so desperately needs. D.B. Bonds as Freddy is simply no match for Hewitt. He is playing for shtick instead of character, and many of his jokes fall flat. Even his powerhouse number "Great Big Stuff" fails to be the showstopper it's intended. He needs to let his inner child rip. He seems to have the potential.
As the dewy-eyed dope Christine from Ohio, Laura Marie Duncan is more sweetly innocent than daffy, but her charms work very effectively to earn sympathy when the irascible villains are working their cons. Her clear, strong singing voice handles the melodic "Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True" as easily as the power belt finishes of "Here I Am" and "Love Is My Legs."
The supporting cast is equally adept. Drew McVety as the corrupt French Police Chief Andre Thibault (who also serves as Jameson's set up man when picking suitable pigeons) is all understated awkwardness and charm when wooing Kim Shriver's lonely and endearing Muriel Eubanks, a rich widow turned victim turned lover. Their Fred and Ginger style duet, "Like Zis/Like Zat," is a warm and wonderful highlight that gives the audience a chance to emit some genuinely romantic sighs amidst the rest of the show's raucous buffoonery. The aforementioned Pardy almost literally blows the roof off the place when she wields her thirty-ought-six in the hilariously tasteless production number "Oklahoma." In their limited but eye-popping dance routines, the ensemble kicks things into high gear with "Oklahoma" and "The More We Dance."
The original Broadway production's opening number, "Give Them What They Want," has been replaced on tour by "The Only Game in Town," a suave and sophisticated jazzy '60s style song that works quite well to establish the period and the character of its singer, Lawrence Jameson. Hewitt delivers this number with elegance and a winking humor that sets expectations high for what is to come. Unfortunately, it takes much too long for those expectations to be realized. If only the joy that Hewitt and Bonds share in their knockout "Dirty Rotten Number" at the end of the show were evident throughout the production, this "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" would be an unabashed winner. As it stands now, it is only a mildly amusing also ran.
1. D.B. Bonds and Tom Hewitt in "Dirty Rotten Number" (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
2. Paige Pardy and Tom Hewitt with the "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" touring company (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
3. Laura Marie Duncan with the "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" touring company (Photo by Chris Bennion)