Editor’s thanks to George Hong for supplying his photos that bring the play alive.
Don’t let the glamorous setting fool you.
Yes, life can be ritzy, glitzy and whatever else you prefer on the French Riviera. The lifestyles of the rich and the flash of their assets are on display. Which makes them tempting targets for a pair of confidence men who specialize in preying on wealthy women from America. These scoundrels are the heroes—no, let’s give them the name they deserve and call them antiheroes—of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Now that our endless summer and merciless heat wave have come to an end, it’s time to visit the Riviera, with a getaway ticket courtesy of Stockton Civic Theatre. The current production takes its inspiration from memorable film versions starring Marlon Brando and David Niven (1964) and the delightful duo of Steve Martin and Michael Caine (1988)—and the musical stage version that proved a Broadway hit when it premiered in 2005.
Despite the three negatives of its title, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a positive, a plus and a pleaser for fun-loving theatregoers. Just don’t expect it to help you appreciate the fine points of French culture, fashion, Michelin-starred cuisine or worthy wines such as imported Lodi cabernet (all kidding aside, I actually saw the cabernet listed on a wine menu while dining in the Bordeaux region).
The current production is a rare opportunity for you to see how well a film favorite has translated into musical comedy. Such comedies don’t often come complete with chuckle-worthy crime capers at the heart of the action. Though no crime-solving detective is on hand to put the con men out of business, playgoers can anticipate how they might get their comeuppance. It comes with a twist on the timeless truth of the proverb that holds there’s no honor among thieves. The wisdom of the proverb is amply demonstrated here as the rival scoundrels form a partnership that soon collapses into a no-holds-barred competition to see which of the two can lay claim to being king of the con.
The unscrupulous duo are a suave and sophisticated Englishman, played with requisite finesse by Brad DeMoss, and a feckless and hapless American, given comic life by Kyle Beal. The two make a convincing pair as they scam susceptible females while keeping an eye out for a master thief reputed to be at work in the neighborhood. Keep your own eyes and ears open if you wish to play along.
It isn’t often that a popular movie is transformed into a popular musical, but one can see why the transformation scored a second hit. It does so again here, thanks to a commendable cast, a talented chorus of high-energy singers and dancers, music that flows from rear-stage musicians, and the versatile and vivacious choreography of Evelyn Barney, Kurt Nielsen and James Reed that keeps the show on its toes. All of which encourages applause from those of us familiar with the film versions and appreciative of the performance transition to the stage.
Once again, honor flies out the window when English con artist Lawrence Jamison and American intruder Freddy Benson collide. The honor is gone, but the humor grows steadily as the two use a variety of deceits and deceptions to separate female tourists from their cash. Though the women are targets, they can also be the source of confession and revelation such as when Muriel Eubanks (Cindy Braden) answers her own question by singing “What Was a Woman to Do?”Chelsea Carruesco’s character of Christine Colgate (does Jamison or Benson suspect she might be an heiress to a toothpaste fortune?) knows exactly what to do though she conceals her intent.
And watch out for Sierra Fraser’s Jolene Oakes, a down-home country gal prone to screeching with excitement when she extols the idea of exchanging the romance of the Riviera for the joys of Oklahoma. Oklahoma? Seriously?
Jolene’s big moment arrives with a costumed cowboy chorus that suddenly appears from nowhere to sing the praises of the Sooner state. “Oklahoma?” takes us all by surprise in its tongue-in-cheek tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. After all, Jolene’s last name hints that she left her heart there.
After two successful movie versions and a hit musical, is it possible that “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” will continue to evolve and find yet another format to delight audiences of the future?
One never knows. But when a friend asked me for my own preference, I suggested a plot shift about two scoundrels seeking recognition and financial support as writers by following Hemingway’s footsteps to Paris. There, seating themselves in a famous Parisian cafe with wine or cappuccinos in hand and a roving eye for susceptible female passersby, they pose as America’s gift to writing, with a little help from a song-and-dance chorus of lookalike Hemingways extolling the virtue of writing stripped of pretensions and unnecessary adjectives.
You are free to imagine your own version of “Scoundrels” as you sit back in your SCT seat and tour the Riviera. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about a plot twist that neither of our Scoundrels sees coming. If, by any chance, you see it coming, you’d be fully justified in adding “superior detective skills” to your resume and applying for a position in the Department of Unacceptable Frauds.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” runs through Sept. 25, with Thursday-Saturday evening performances at 7;30 p.m. and a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee. Adults $31. Seniors $26. Students $18. Box Office: (209) 473-2424.
A retired reporter and editor, Stockton resident Howard Lachtman has written Delta-centered detective stories, Stockton Civic Theatre reviews and a variety of baseball tales for Soundings. In 2006. he was honored by the Stockton Arts Commission for “24 years of superior review and commentary on the performing and literary arts in Stockton.”
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