KPBS AIRDATE: October 01, 2004
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is all about turning tables — from the roulette wheel of the French Riviera to the competitive con-games of the protagonists, to the dizzying scenery that rolls in, out, up and down throughout the show. The Old Globe’s Broadway-bound world premiere musical adaptation of the 1988 film may tickle your funnybone more than touch your heart — but it certainly is a moving experience.
Jeffrey Lane’s book is comical if sometimes coarse, and it plumps up the secondary characters with a sweet romantic interlude. That adds a little tenderness to a hard-edged tale of two conmen — one suave, once crass — who try to fleece wealthy women, though they say they’re just giving ’em what they want. (SONG) The two meet up in the ritzy, beautiful Beaumont Sur Mer, which just isn’t big enough for both of them. Ultimately, they choose a mark and make a bet: the first to bilk her out of $50,000 wins the territory — and the other one has to get out of town.
As in the Michael Caine/Steve Martin movie, it’s great fun to watch these thugs nimbly make their moves and work their particular (nefarious) kind of magic. As Lawrence Jameson, the classy, English grifter, John Lithgow is brilliantly debonair and narcissistic. He’s a consummate actor, but he’s weak in the singing department, stiffly Rex Harrison-ing his way through most of his numbers. The other leads sing and act admirably, but dancing isn’t their forte either, despite the obviously over-simplified choreography Jerry Mitchell has provided for them. There’s engaging Gregory Jbara as the underwritten, overly gentle, corrupt chief of police; Joanna Gleason, hilarious as the rich-sarcastic American who falls for him; and winsome Sherie Rene Scott as the naïve center of the Bad Boys’ bet. But there’s only one triple-threat on that stage — Norbert Leo Butz — as the klutzy but crafty, crude and conniving American lowlife who nearly walks off with the show. Butz is a terrific comic, singer and dancer who brings effervescence and unpredictability to his every scene and number.
The songs, by the ultra-talented David Yazbek, are all over the musical map — from cowboy to rap, Noel Coward to Mel Brooks. His lyrics, though sometimes raunchy, are incredibly clever. Director Jack O’Brien as always, gives great entertainment. The show is very funny, even if it lacks the depth or heart of “The Full Monty,” created by the same team. With trimming and tightening, there’s no reason this musical shouldn’t make it big on Broadway. All the characters get what they want in the end — and the audience does, too…. a rollicking good time — even if the bad guys win.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.