The touring production of the 2005-2006 Broadway musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, featuring a score by David Yazbek (The Full Monty), had a brief stay in Pittsburgh recently. Nominated for eleven Tony Awards (with one winner - actor Norbert Leo Butz), the Broadway production never seemed to find a sufficient audience, though the coarse humor, lively score and accomplished cast were appreciated by many. The tour began in August 2006, with Butz reprising the role of Freddy Benson, playing the first couple of months before the production took a brief hiatus for re-tooling before picking up again in January. The current version is fairly tight with a talented cast.
The story of the accomplished "upper class" con man Lawrence Jameson (Tom Hewitt) and neophyte "lower class" con man Freddy Benson (D.B. Bonds) as they seek to make a fine living from duping wealthy women (and, of course, end up being duped themselves) takes place on the French Riviera. With his accomplice (and chief of police) André Thibault (Drew McVety), Jameson has been living quite comfortably and doesn't want the competition, or the association, of the crass Benson. With room for only one swindler in town, the two enter into a contest to scam visiting "Soap Queen" Christine Colgate (Laura Marie Duncan) out of $50,000. We watch as the two men battle for this lucrative turf through cleverness and sabotage, with music and dance.
Tom Hewitt shows another level to his versatility (after playing Fran N Furter, Dr. Dolittle and Dracula) as the crook with the smooth facade. Jameson is charming but vulnerable, and Hewitt does a great job with the character. D.B. Bonds doesn't have the distinctive spark necessary to make Freddy endearing despite the character's vulgarity and sleaze, making him hard to care for. In his big number, "Great Big Stuff," he makes every move and sings every note well, but it's more like an exercise than really inhabiting the character. Laura Marie Duncan is cute and perky, though she doesn't play dumb as well as she should. In fact, in many instances, the actors over-emphasized their characters' play-acting when tricking someone - it's not necessary, and the show plays better when they look like better cons. Two stand-out supporting players are McVety as André and Hollis Resnik as Muriel Eubanks (one of Jameson's marks from early in the show). They don't overplay their parts, and they bring comic depth to two characters that are really fringe to the plot. Resnik, in particular, is in splendid voice. When this couple has their "moment", it's a highlight of the show, and a textbook example of how to play the role of a comedic sidekick.
Yazbek's score goes from funky to pretty, with contemporary and witty lyrics; more than just musical accompaniment to the plot, it adds flavor and atmosphere to the show. Though some tunes sound like direct interpolations of themes from The Full Monty, that's not all bad. The orchestrations by Harold Wheeler are fresh and effective, and are played very well by the five-member orchestra, with Steven Bishop Conducting.. Jeffrey Lane's book is a bit scattered in spots, but in general it accomplishes its goal, which is to set-up the final couple of scenes without giving too much away too early. The colorful and functional set by David Rockwell holds the tone with smooth transitions.
How does this cast measure up to the original Broadway leads? Tom Hewitt vs. John Lithgow - a nod to Hewitt for his better singing voice, and for showing the tarnish in Jameson's polish. B.D. Bonds vs. Norbert Leo Butz - the knock-out performance by Butz can't be beat; the role seemed to have been written for him and he went full out in every aspect. Laura Marie Duncan vs. Sherie Rene Scott - Scott's physical presence and comedic skills give her the edge.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ran January 23-28 at the Benedum Center andcontinues with dates across the country scheduled through July. For more information, visit www.dirtyrottentour.com/.
Cast: Tom Hewitt, D.B. Bonds, Laura Marie Duncan, Hollis Resnik, Drew McVety, Paige Pardy, Jeremy Davis, Kim Shriver, Christian Whelan, Tally Sessions.