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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,
The Gingerbread Lady
and Past Perfect

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Tom Hewitt and D.B. Bonds
The touring company of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels cons its way into San Jose as part of the American Musical Theatre Season of San Jose. The brassy musical plays at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts through May 13th. This marks my second time seeing this fast-paced musical, having seen Jonathan Pryce as Lawrence Jameson and Jason Gillman as Freddy Benson in New York last June.

Changes have been made for this cut-down touring company version. The musical now has a new opening number, "The Only Game in Town," which replaces "Give Them What They Want." The new number is more upbeat but on opening night it was excessively loud. Once again the sound system at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts blasted both orchestra and chorus almost to the highest decibel a human ear can take. As a result, many of the complex lyrics got lost. The sound finally cleared up after the big number "Oklahoma?"

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an entertaining tuner and has a certain nice frivolous quality about it. The score is mix of pop and jazz inflected melodies, relying heavily on brassy jazz instead of big ballads or even great show stoppers. Freddy's rap number, "Great Big Stuff," has a lively beat while "Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True" with its pleasant melodic melody is repeated too much throughout the long, two-hour forty-five-minute production. "Chimp in the Suit" has a great beat. The "oom pa pa" melody in "All About Ruprecht" is catchy but the lyrics are insane. The song and dance number "Oklahoma?" does not come over well, even with the cut down Las Vegas strip cowboys backing up Paige Pardy's twanging voice.

Tom Hewitt (title role in Dracula, the Musical and Frank 'N' Furter in The Rocky Horror Show) as Lawrence Jameson with a perfect British accent captures the anxious scheme beneath the character's debonair sophistication. He also has great vocal chops in "All About Ruprecht" and "The Reckoning."

D.B. Bonds (Broadway Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables) shines as the raffish grifter Freddy Benson, playing the role as part Jerry Lewis and part Steve Martin. He is especially outstanding in the second act when Freddy is confined by a sham involving being in a wheelchair. Bonds also displays an exceptional singing voice going from rapping to crooning.

Laura Marie Duncan (Broadway Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is beguiling as Christine Colgate. She plays the role like a fun Kristin Chenoweth. Hollis Resnik (Thoroughly Modern Millie national tour) almost steals the show with her great portrayal of Muriel Eubanks. She reminds me of the late Madeline Kahn in her acting. She has an enticing voice in her rendition of "What Was a Woman to Do?" Her duet with Drew McVety (Broadway Spamalot, Frozen, Big River) is first rate. Mr. McVety also gives a first rate performance as Andre. He shines in his big number, "Chimp in Suit." Paige Pardy (Hairspray in Las Vegas) is very good as the jovial gum-smacking girl from Oklahoma.

The cast of dancers present several brief dance numbers of Jerry Mitchell's choreography in the musical. However, they look a lot like a Las Vegas show. Costumes by Gregg Barns are bright and gaudy. The cowboy and cowgirl outfits are straight out of a Las Vegas revue. David Rockwell's sets have been scaled down from the Broadway show but they still look like something out of the '40s and '50s Fox film musicals. Director Jack O'Brien keeps the whole production moving at a fast pace.

One can sum up the whole musical by what Tom Hewitt, says as Lawrence: "What you lack in grace ... you make up for in vulgarity." However, this brassy show has good vulgarity. It is not for the high-minded.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels plays through May 13th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose, before moving on to Sacramento, Hartford CT, Cleveland OH and Kansas City over the next month. For complete schedule, visit www.dirtyrottentour.com.

The American Musical Theatre of San Jose's next production will be All Shook Up, opening on June 19 and running through June 24th.


Photo: Carol Rosegg


The Gingerbread lady

Someone once said that drama and humor do not mix, but the Dragon Production Company has been able to mix both with success in their presentation of Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady at their theatre on Alma Street, Palo Alto.

The Gingerbread Lady centers around Evy Meara (Diane Tasca), is a rehabilitated drunk returning to her home after a ten-week dry-out period in a sanatorium. Her best friend Jimmy Perry (Martin Gagen), an out of work gay actor, prepares her apartment for her return. Also on hand to welcome Evy back is her best friend Toby (Carolyn Power), a 40-year-old who focuses on making certain her everlasting beauty through cosmetics.

Evy looks forward to having a life without alcohol but things are not going too well for her without a drink in her hand. Her teenage daughter Polly (Vivian Cook) decides to live with her somewhat as a nurse. Evy's ex-boyfriend Lou (James Allen Brewer), an unemployed musician who walked out on her for an Indian maiden, now wants back into Evy's life.

Things wrong as Evy plans a birthday party for her best friend Toby. Toby confides that her husband is divorcing her. Jimmy has just been fired from an Off-Broadway show just two days before it is set to open. These traumas cause Evy to hit the bottle pronto. Evy has an evil tongue when drinking to excess. She lashes out at Toby, Jimmy and her innocent daughter. There is hope as the play ends that Evy will get her act together and not go back to the bottle.

Dave Sikula gets solid performances from the six actors. Diana Tasca is excellent as Evy. She plays the role as a highly intelligent person who is trying to go straight. She delivers some of the best Neil Simon comic zingers throughout the drama.

Carolyn Power is outstanding as Toby, who is determined never to be old by using a lot of make-up. Her second-act dissertation on her life is well done. Vivian Cook gives a good account of herself as the teenager Polly. Martin Gagen gives a great performance as a gay actor who can't seem to find or keep an acting job. He tends to go over the top in his role several times. However, his retort on how got fired by the young director is hilarious. James Allen Brewer as Lou gives a focused and thoughtful performance in his one scene with Eve. He portrays a man who is very self-centered and a bit of a flake. Rounding out the cast is Alex Fiore as Manuel; he is effective in a small scene at the beginning of the play.

Cy Eaton has devised an excellent detailed set of the living room of Evy's apartment in this jewel box of a theatre. The lighting and sound, also by Eaton, are very good. Kelly Ground designed elegant dresses for the principals.

Director Dave Sikula keeps the play moving with scenes that contain both drama and humor. It is a good evening's entertainment.

Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady runs through May 13th at their theatre located at 535 Alma Street, Palo Alto. For tickets call 650-493-2006 or go to www.dragonproductions.net. Their next production will As Bees In Honey Drown by Douglas Carter Beane, opening on June 8th and running through July 1.


Past Perfect

Past Perfect
Clayton B. Hodges, Adrienne Krug (sitting), and Libby O'Connell
Theatre Rhinoceros is presenting the world premiere of Nicky Silver's comedy Past Perfect, running through May 20th. Silver, who has written many clever comedies, is now presenting a darker dramatic picture of a dysfunctional family. There is still some humor in some of the scenes in the story of a family who divulges its dysfunction.

Past Perfect centers on the Dunham family who are down right unpleasant. Daddy is dying upstairs with a tumor "the size of a kiwi" while the spoiled and neurotic 30-year-old son and 30-year-daughter wait for the old man to die. Both are hoping to get a little something from the will. Wife Dina apparently reflects on her unhappy union with the man.

Each of these characters has hang ups and they tell the audience of these past problems. Dina still dreams of the boy she adored at 17 who didn't love her back. She now seems a worn out woman with no humanity left. She does not care for her children and says they are unlikable. As soon as daddy dies upstairs, her plans are to sell the house and go somewhere where she does not have to face her two children. When son Seth asks "Don't you love us?," she replies "Love you, hate you? ... I don't know, I don't like you."

Seth is a failed actor who has been in only a few Off-Off-Broadway shows and likes to drink a lot. He says he could become a first class alcoholic if he could afford the booze. He reflects on a high school crush he had on student Charlie. Although they never met in high school, Seth masturbated a lot with Charlie on his mind. Betsy is an alcoholic who swings both ways and has also been unlucky in love. She has just lost the latest in a long line of chums of both sexes. Throughout the drama both Seth and Betsy drink one heck of a lot of liquor.

Charlie somehow comes back onto the scene and Seth, who has had many sexual affairs, has found true love. The main problem is that Charlie is HIV positive and he still pines for the lover who infected him with this decease. That lover is dying of AIDS in Seattle. Even Daddy gets into the act as he appears in pajamas in something of a dream sequence telling of his philandering, but he still loves his frigid wife.

The clever dialogue that Nicky Silvers has written in his past plays seems to be missing in this dark tragedy.

All of the actors under the direction of John Dixon give first rate performances. Clayton B. Hodges gives an excellent performance as Seth. He is totally compelling in his confrontations with Libby O’Connell as sister Betsy. Ms. O’Connell gives a fine performance as she tells about her past relationships. Adrienne Krug gives a fervent performance as the cold wife and mother. Matt Weimer turns in a first-class performance with his unassuming charm as the HIV positive lover Charlie. Donald Currie is touching as the dying husband Philip.

On the whole, the play is a mite too long. The long introspective monologues tend to be excessive and do not advance the plot.

Jon Wai-Keung Lowe has devised an excellent detailed set of a living room with shelves upon shelves of books in the background.

Past Perfect plays through May 20th at the Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-861-5079 or online at www.TheRhino.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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