Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Farcical ‘DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS’ pleases some at the Palace, but...

‘DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS,’ which is now on stage at the Palace Theatre, is a musical farce. Farces aim to entertain the audience by means of unlikely and extravagant situations, disguises and mistaken identities. They contain broad physical humor and verbal comedy of varying degrees of sophistication, which often includes puns and sexual innuendo. To be effective the material must sizzle and the performance must be right on target. (Think Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM’ and ‘HAY FEVER.’) Unfortunately for local audiences, ‘DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS’ is shallow in both book and staging.

First conceived as a movie in 1988, the film, which starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine, is considered by many cinema aficionados as one of the 50 most humorous American films.

In 2005, the movie was adapted into a Broadway musical following the same plot line. It starred John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz, and in spite of mixed reviews, it was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The story concerns Freddy Benson, who lives off women by conning them with stories about his fake persona. One day, he meets Lawrence Jamieson, who shares the same passion. Lawrence, however, has neither the charm nor the maturity to pull off high level cons. He relies on his youth and made-up family tales. As there is no way two con men can work the small French town, Lawrence and Freddy agree that the first one to extract $50,000 from a young female target stays, and the other leaves town. What they fail to realize is that a con man can also be conned!

The touring production does not have the appeal of the Broadway production or the film. Tom Hewitt is fine, but not outstanding, as Lawrence. D. B. Bonds has some good moments as Freddy, but isn’t in the same league as Norbert Leo Butz, who won a Tony for the role. Laura Marie Duncan, who has a nice voice, doesn’t ring true as Christine Colgate, who eventually cons the con artists. Only Hollis Resnik stands out as one of the ladies taken advantage of by Lawrence.

Songs like “Great Big Stuff” and “Love Is My Legs” were audience pleasers. However, “All About Ruprecht” and “Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen” were just too ridiculous to entertain anyone with at least a normal IQ.

The dancing was often too automatic and uncreative and the pace seemed to be that of a show which has been on the road too long.

Capsule judgment: The opening night audience gave its usual Cleveland standing ovation to a production which was basically mediocre. This is the kind of show that some will love, while others, like the four ladies sitting behind me, who are self appointed critics, were debating during intermission whether they were going to give the show a C- or a D+. Whichever grade they picked was just about right.