TBTS' terrific Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Admit it — we are all a little perverse. How else to explain the difficulty, unless you are comatose, in not laughing heartily at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the tale of two con men plying their criminal trade on the French Riviera. Make that laughing especially heartily if you see the production that is closing out the summer season of musicals at Theater by the Sea (through September 6).
FEELING THE BREEZE Gillman and Bundonis.
You know what I'm talking about if you have seen the 1988 film starring Michael Caine as the sophisticated crook and Steve Martin as the cluelessly crude one. For this adaptation, the book is by television writer Jeffrey Lane (Mad About You) and music and lyrics are by Brown grad David Yazbek (The Full Monty). Hitting Broadway in 2005, John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz played the scamps.
I can't imagine anyone who has enjoyed the above two productions not raving with similar enthusiasm about this first-rate staging. As befits a story set in the moneyed and fictional Beaumont-sur-Mer and being largely about the hypnotic effect of classy surfaces, the scenic design by Ray Recht is top-shelf, whether of a fancy dining car where the two con men meet, or a Riviera balcony where we can almost feel the breeze. Costume design by Marcia Zammarelli is correspondingly none-too-shabby, as dancers in tuxedos and evening gowns in bold colors swirl to choreography by Chris Saunders. This is all directed by Amiee Turner, with music direction of the orchestra by Andrew Smithson.
The story centers around suave con man Lawrence Jameson (Al Bundonis), who specializes in convincing wealthy widows and divorcees that he is an exiled European prince. Honored to be seduced, they also are happy to donate their jewelry to help finance the perpetual revolution to bring him back to the throne. To his mind, he is providing a social service for all involved: they get to feel good and he gets to become rich.
Into the picture comes two-bit scam artist Freddy Benson (Jason Gillman), who feels smugly proud of himself for conning $20 off of a woman on a train by pretending to be hungry. Jameson witnesses that with cool disdain. Benson shows up uninvited at his mansion, gawks at the splendor, and wants to apprentice. Jameson has no reason to comply until one of his scams goes awry and Oklahoma oil heiress Jolene Oakes (Rachel Rice) expects him to marry her and live in cattle country. So Benson comes in handy by pretending to be his brother Ruprecht, demented by inbreeding.
That sets up the most hilarious scene in an already droll show, as Ruprecht all but drools with lasciviousness not only at Jolene but also at his ostensible brother, who threatens him with "the genital cuff." Gillman is uproarious here, coming up with plenty of bawdy business to keep us laughing. Throughout the play he's steadily enjoyable, maintaining a plausible level of self-deception behind Benson's arrogance. For his part, Bundonis is also ideal in the role, with just the right square-jawed handsomeness for such a character and providing him with plenty of personality to gain our sympathies. Supporting actors also do very well, especially Lisa Yuen as a mark Jameson gets overly fond of, Christopher Swan as his police chief accomplice, and Stacey Geer as the latter's spirited love interest.
, Michael Caine, Steve Martin, Amiee Turner, More