6th Street Playhouse continues its run of lightweight modern musical comedies with its current production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, directed by Craig A. Miller and running now through April 13. Based on the 1988 film of the same name starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin (which was itself a remake of the 1964 film “Bedtime Story” starring David Niven and Marlon Brando), the play is principally a straight adaptation of the film with added musical numbers.
Lawrence Jameson (Barry Martin) leads a life of luxury on the French Riviera. He finances his lifestyle by posing as a Prince and conning rich tourists out of their fortunes. With an assist by the local gendarme Andre (Larry Williams) and various hotel concierges, Jameson insinuates himself into the women’s company and suavely cons them into making large “donations” to finance his country’s struggle against communism.
While returning on a train after shipping off his latest victim, Jameson witnesses brash young American Freddy Benson (Rob Broadhurst) pulling a small con on a gullible woman. Jameson doesn’t want Benson plying his trade anywhere near him, so he convinces him to move on. Circumstances lead Freddy to become aware of Lawrence’s true colors, and he confronts him at his estate. Impressed by what he sees, Freddy wants Lawrence to mentor him so he too can lead a life full of “great big stuff.” Lawrence finds himself needing Freddy’s assistance to get out of a particularly sticky situation, and while he enjoyed their “work “ together, he realizes that France isn’t big enough for both of them. The two men enter an agreement by which the first of them to successfully con a mark (Taylor Bartolucci) out of fifty thousand dollars gets to stay while the other must leave. Freddy becomes a wounded military hero, Lawrence becomes a Viennese specialist and the game is on. But who’s conning who?
Populated with 6th Street veterans and a few fairly fresh faces, the cast does their best with the slight material. After recent leads in “The Lion in Winter” and “Spamalot”, Barry Martin scores a hat trick with his third role as a stuffy, upper-crust Englander. As Jameson, he seems to be channeling Edward Woodward at his stodgiest or Jonathan Pryce at his slimiest and he’s fine, but he really seems to come alive when he takes on the faux-role of Dr. Shuffhausen. Rob Broadhurst is fun in the role of Freddy, but he needs to limit the mugging, or at the very least come up with a few more facial expressions than the one he repeatedly used.
As “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is – in essence – a two man show, the female roles are fairly thankless as they serve only as virtual pieces in the games being played by Lawrence and Freddy. As Muriel, one of Lawrence’s victims, Kim Williams has the unenviable (and annoying) task of delivering a series of groan-inducing puns. This show provides ample evidence to support the theory that puns are the lowest form of humor. Bartolucci seems to have transplanted her character straight from “Boeing Boeing” (as an American airline hostess in France) to her role in this production (as an American Soap Queen in France.) Thankfully, though, she’s toned it down significantly. Amy Webber adds some energy to the proceedings as Jolene Oakes from OK-lahoma, the catalyst for originally bringing Lawrence and Freddy together.
Musically, the score is serviceable, but not much more than that. While the lyrics are often funny, the songs are not the least bit memorable. While you enjoy them while hearing them – and they’re played well by the live orchestra – you’d be hard pressed to remember any of them on the drive home. Vocal performances weren’t particularly dynamic (but, then again, neither are the songs) and in some numbers seemed rather thin. Broadhurst is the undisputed vocal star of this show. He has a terrific singing voice and his number “Great Big Stuff” is the musical highlight of the evening.
As far as the comedy goes, to paraphrase a line from the show – what it lacks in charm, it makes up in vulgarity. The humor is surprisingly crass in spots. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t funny, it just surprised me at how low the humor occasionally sunk.
And if you’re ok with humor that occasionally sinks to a pretty low level, why not go for broke and use the hackneyed community theatre gimmick that’s guaranteed to get a reaction from an audience? I speak of the “local shout out”. It’s when a line of dialogue is modified to make a local reference. Ie. “I’ll follow him to the ends of the world, from Monte Carlo to Rio De Janeiro to Cotati!” It’s cheap, it’s unnecessary, and it takes the audience out of the world of the play that performers, musicians and designers have worked so hard to create.
With a running time of two and a half hours (plus intermission), “…Scoundrels” is a little slow to start and feels a bit long. A few musical numbers had already been excised, but additional consideration might have been given to cutting a few more that seemed extraneous and upping the pace where appropriate.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is another entry in the canon of frivolous modern musicals based on a film or television series. Some are better than others. This one falls somewhere in the middle. Not great musical theatre, but good enough to provide a mindless evening’s entertainment and some laughs.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Evenings Thu, Fri, Sat @ 8:00pm Matinees Sat & Sun @ 2pm through April 13
6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Photos by Eric Chazankin