Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
For my tastes, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels works about two-thirds of the time. And that's when I'm expecting nothing more than a pleasant evening's entertainment: the ironic punctuation in the title of one of the funnier songs, Oklahoma, indicates that its creators are aware that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not, nor was it ever intended to be, the next Oklahoma! The tone of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels begins broad and becomes broader: if you like obvious jokes and topical humor (I would imagine that references to Festus are not made when the show is playing Denver) you'll love it.
The book (by Jeffrey Lane) concerns two con men (Tom Hewitt and D.B. Bonds) who compete for the attention, and wealth, of an American heiress (Laura Marie Duncan). The show is based on a popular 1988 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on the 1964 film A Bedtime Story. It also bears more than a few resemblances, including checks made out to "cash," to another musical which won quite a few Tonys in 2001. The music and lyrics are by David Yazbek, who also wrote music and lyrics for The Full Monty and additional lyrics for Bombay Dreams.
Now about that unfortunate exception: I assume that when people go to a musical, they have an interest in the quality of the music they hear. I don't mean the quality of Yazbek's songs: several of his ballads are quite moving, including "What Was a Woman to Do?" (sung by Hollis Resnik), "Nothing is Too Wonderful to be True" (sung by Laura Marie Duncan and D.B. Bonds) and "Love Sneaks In" (sung by Tom Hewitt), and the remainder are at least adequate if sometimes undistinguished. The quality of the lead voices is also fine, but the sound of the orchestra is something else again. I'm not even sure it should be called an orchestra, since a peek into the pit revealed that the string section has been replaced by two electric keyboards. Well, that helps to explain the harsh, tinny sound emanating from the Fox's speakers, which was no more flattering to the chorus: in a production which has apparently spared no expense for costumes and draws attention to its many set changes and revolving stage, why would the producers cheap out on the sound of the music people have come to hear?
Oh well, this is a growing trend and it may be the only way we will get to see touring shows in the future. I also wonder about the point of touring a reduced production of a show whose Broadway success relied in large part on visual splendor as well as the power of stars such as John Lithgow and Norbert Lee Butz (who won the show's only Tony) to draw attention away from the more ordinary moments in both book and music. On the other hand, most of us living out here in the Heartland don't have a budget for regular trips to Broadway to see the original productions, so this may be our only chance to see this and similar shows.
The visual elements in this production are a mixed bag: costumes (by Gregg Barnes) and lighting (Kenneth Posner) are beautiful and effective, while the sets (by David Rockwell) struggle valiantly (and not always successfully) against the strictures inherent in designing for a touring production. On the other hand, the choreography (by Jerry Mitchell) is largely undistinguished, with the exception of the lovely moonlight number "The More We Dance."
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will be performed at the Fox through April 8. Tickets are available through MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com; the number for group sales is 314-535-2900. The next production in the U.S. Bank Broadway Series at the Fox will be Chicago, which will run April 13-15.