Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Book by Jeffrey Lane, Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, based on the film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning. Directed by John Saunders; choreographed by Sebastiani Romagnolo. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Colin Pritchard as Freddy Benson sings about "Great Big Stuff"; photo: Neal Kowalsky
"The age of miracles comes every hour by the hour"
Gabe Belyeu and Kelly Gabrielle Murphy; photo: Neal Kowalsky
Every good musical has its romance at the center. Every musical romance has its falling out, its simple impossibilities. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" has its many characters falling in and out of love with the speed of sound. There's a complicated relationship at the start of things and by the end of the two hour and forty-two minute show the relationship has grown into something more than you ever expect. In between those two points is the fun of discovery and the magic of how music moved the lovers to new levels of experience.
A very funny line about Donald Trump has been written out of the show's "Great Big Stuff" number, the one that introduces Freddy Benson, played at the MacHaydn Theatre by Colin Pritchard. But other than that the piece seems to be intact and with John Saunders direction and Sebastiani Romagnolo's choreography this song, like all of the rest, has its original impact and passion intact.
We have the story of two men, each a successful con-man working the French Riviera, teaming up to take in a fabulous heiress with their respective charms and take her for a relative fortune. We have the secondary story of a man and a woman who are anything but perfect for one another becoming partners of a different sort. We have the love stories of two other women for the same man and we have the texture of cultures clashing and blending as the heated world of Meditteranean lusts and loves oversees the proceedings. In other words, name your poison - it's available. In fact this is a show of text and context, colors and contrasts. And everywhere you look at the MacHaydn's theater-in-the-round you have "ze fun," you have "ze laughs," you watch "them flirt" and be "overt." And it is fun.
Pritchard is one of the company's guest artists, the Equity Professional, and his work shines as a professional's should. He is loutish, funny, adaptable to the quirky characters his character assumes in the grifter's art. His Prince Ruprecht is delicious and his Sergeant Buzz Benson, is delicate and passionate. He moves smoothly from Freddy to his special creations with ease and is almost too easy with the dirty rotten scoundrels his own scoundrel becomes in the course of the plot. He sings his songs and dances his dances with the slickness of a professional pretender but his particular grift is never offensive or loathsome unlike the special interpretation of the role's originator Norbert Leo Butz (who I thought at the time was the perfectly named actor for this role, originated in the movie by Steve Martin and in an earlier version by Marlon Brando - these are big shoes to fill).
The very American Freddy is mentored by Lawrence Jamieson, a slightly older, more urbane and sophisticated, European gentleman of hauteur, played here by Gabe Belyeu. The actor (in the shadow of John Lithgow, Michael Caine and David Niven) pulls off his role with no apparent difficulty, smoothly massaging the egos of ladies, of men and of inanimate objects with equanimity. Belyeu is delightfully funny, romantic and sadistic all at the same time. As an actor, singer and dancer he is certainly the equal of his Equity counterpart, something he has managed to pull-off for years now at this theater. In this role he also assumes different personalities and different postures. He manages to convince us, as well as the characters he plays with in the show, that he is everything he claims to be when necessary. This is a terrific role in which to bring Belyeu home to this theater.
His manservant is played with gusto and delights by Steve Hassmer who makes Andre into the perfect Frenchman, especially when he is wooing one of his lordship's cast-offs who cannot seem to leave the Riviera, Muriel of Omaha, played here by Judith Wyatt. This is the role so delectably played on Broadway by Joanna Gleason. Wyatt is like a cross between Nancy Walker and Kitty Carlisle in looks and in performance style. Sadly, her singing on opening night was a bit unsteady. She was much more convincing in her scenes than in her songs.
Jolene of Oklahoma was played with verve, gusto and an almost outrageous amount of flare by Kelly Gabrielle Murphy whose cowboy accent interfered with her very funny lyrics. Again, in her scenes she was superb but in her song she was lacking the character finesse she needed.
The second Equity professional, playing Christine Colgate (Sheri Rene Scott on Broadway; Glenne Headly and Shirley Jones in the films) is Madison Stratton. She is a beautiful woman with fine acting chops, but once again her singing left a lot to be desired. Christine is the musical's secret weapon and Stratton pulls off the perfect score in the dramatic surprises department. If she could sing as well as she acts she would have made this the perfect show.
John Saunders has a few messy moments as he moves his very large cast around the postage stamp stage (I always marvel at how you can put twenty-two people on this theater's performance space without them killing one another accidentally). He has certainly given his characters what they need to make them feel real and not "played" and this in a situation where seeming "played" would not be unwelcome. His choreographer, Sebastiani Romagnolo has achieved some remarkable things with the ensemble as they move in and out of the simultaneous swimming sense you often get in musicals. Romagnolo allows the company to combine into a single movement when needed but he preserves their individuality most of the time.
Jimm Halliday has provided excellent costumes that seem to be period pieces but not so specifically that the characters don't feel contemporary. Erin Kiernan's set and scene painting are glorious. Andrew Gmoser's lighting keeps the show intimate and personal which is amazing. The twin musical directors, Jillian Zack and David Maglione keep their seven-piece band note-perfect. All the elements blend here into a truly charming whole.
This is a show that makes the term musical comedy show off its two sides to the point of almost perfect satisfaction. If you don't know the piece, I will just say it is worth your time to see it. You cannot fail to enjoy yourself even if the singing lacks precision at times.
Colin Pritchard, Gabe Belyeu and Madison Stratton; photo: Neal Kowalsky
Colin Pritchard and Gabe Belyeu; photo: Neal Kowalsky
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham, NY, through June 18. For information and tickets contact the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.