‘Dirty Rotten’ delight at The Riverbank
MARINE CITY, Mich. – For fans of musical theatre who enjoy tongue-in-cheek (but not quite slapstick) humor, buddy con-artists, hidden identities and unexpected love, a trip to Marine City to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will not disappoint. This Riverbank Theatre production, directed by Nancy Penvose, features a fine cast of both Riverbank alumni and newcomers, and a five-person live orchestra.
Based on the comedy film of the same name, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Jeffrey Lane) follows the exploits of two con-men: Lawrence, a seasoned and successful wooer of wealthy women, and Freddy, a small-scale con upstart.
Lawrence and Freddy employ two very different styles and personas in their con games. If a con man could be described as “classy,” Lawrence would fit the bill. Hardly modest about his classic good looks, he often portrays himself as a prince whose tiny, unknown nation is embroiled in a devastating war, which it will certainly lose without an emergency infusion of cold hard cash. His targets often require long-term finessing, and his complex schemes require him to have an assistant, Andre. Freddy, on the other hand, appears as an unrefined tourist, dressed in garish clothing, who cannot afford to eat a meal on the train because he sends all of his money to his dying grandmother. His hustle focuses on a high quantity of easy targets, garnering a small amount of money from each.
When Freddy tries to worm his way into Lawrence’s “territory” on the French Riviera, Lawrence impresses Freddy with his high-ticket success, and agrees to take Freddy on as an apprentice of sorts. But when Lawrence realizes that Freddy has a natural talent for conning women, he devises a contest to test their skills and determine which one of them will of the Riviera territory.
As the contest proceeds, with Lawrence and Freddy both attempting to be the first to con “Soap Queen” Christine out of $50,000, they each go through periods of self-doubt and respect of the other’s talent. Lawrence even develops a bit of guilt about bilking Christine. Despite all the antics, the winner of the contest won’t be easily guessed by the audience (except for those that have seen the film).
The cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels features Riverbank alum Tony Amato as Lawrence, alum Brittany Smith as Christine, and newcomer Chase LePla as Freddy. Supporting roles are played by familiar faces: Ty Evenson as Andre, Kathy Vertin as the wealthy Muriel, and Amanda Rae Evans as oil heiress Jolene.
Amato is a seasoned master of farce, and brings his comedic talent to the Riverbank stage as Lawrence. He takes himself, and his role as a con, quite seriously, while causing the audience to laugh at his situation. His vocal talent, well suited to musical comedy, is more conversational than affected, and is especially highlighted in his duets and trios, where he lends a strong and harmonious blend.
Smith’s strengths are balanced between her natural ease portraying bubbly naiveté, her ability to deliver a funny line with the straightest of faces, and her sweet voice. The combination makes her completely believable as the unsuspecting target of the con.
The highlight of the cast may well be LePla as Freddy. His physical acting is perfectly suited for this style of comedy, down to the movement of his pinky finger, and his comedic style goes right up to the brink of slapstick without crossing the line to the ridiculous. He caps it all off with impressive vocal talent. He inspires many laughs in his musical numbers, such as “Great Big Stuff,” where he reveals his envy of Lawrence’s lavish lifestyle, the duet “All About Ruprecht” (with Amato), where he portrays himself as a repulsive and disturbing basement dweller, and the duet “Love Is My Legs” (with Smith), which is meant to be the apex of his scheme with Christine.
The supporting cast brings a high level of talent to this production as well. Evenson handles both comic delivery and vocal performance easily, and the duo of Evenson and Vertin works very well, as their unexpected relationship develops. Evans brings many laughs as her character ranges from aggressive shopper to horrified fiancé.
The musical numbers in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are enjoyable overall, though some pieces are far more entertaining and relevant to the plot than others. (There are a few that feel like they are inserted more for timing than content.) That being said, the vocal talent (including the ensemble) delivers each time. The songs that score the most points (in addition to the ones previously mentioned) are “Chimp in a Suit,” “Tango,” “Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True” and “Hotel Yodel.”
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels features adult humor without being too raunchy, offers plot surprises and plenty of laughs. It runs at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City through February 19, 2017.