Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Tarzan
The plot centers on a pair of charming con men who are practically complete opposites of each other and who practice their craft along the French Riviera. Lawrence Jameson, who is refined and debonair, takes under his wing the somewhat younger, crass and buffoonish Freddy Benson. While Lawrence teaches Freddy the finer ways of conning, they team up to swindle their way through several unsuspecting marks. However, when they decide to wager a bet on who will be the first to extract $50,000 from the young American heiress Christine Colgate, their jealousy and shared mutual growing love of Christine pits the two against each other and they find that they may not be quite as good at the game as they believe they are.
David Yazbeck composed the scores for five film-to-stage musicals, all of which made it to Broadway and were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Score. Yazbeck won the Tony for his score for The Band's Visit, and his score for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels features a range of musical styles, centering mostly on jazzy, upbeat tunes, but also including a country western number and some standard Broadway ballads. While not all of the songs are successful, they are all accomplished. Jeffrey Lane's well-crafted book is a gem, with plenty of twists and turns and characters that are fleshed out. Even though the two main characters are con men who steal from wealthy clients, the book makes you care for them to succeed.
While Yazbeck's score and Lane's book include some PG-13 moments and language, Hale has toned those down for a more family-friendly version using the G-rated alternatives for some of the lyrics and dialogue the authors have included in the licensed script. While excising the profanity does make for a slightly different take on the material, it doesn't detract at all from the charm and wit of the show.
Director and choreographer Cambrian James does an excellent job to make sure the warmth of the characters and twists of the plot aren't lost amongst the comical moments. James' choreography is varied and impressive and well-danced by the small ensemble. He's also found a top-notch cast who create realistic and lovable characters. The production is double cast; the Gold cast performed at the performance I attended.
Rob Stuart oozes charm and good taste as the smooth-talking Lawrence, and Austin A. Delp is appropriately comical as the lovable goofball Freddy. Stuart has played this role at Hale before and he brings a beautiful sense of elegance and refinement to it. Stuart's disapproving looks and well-measured line delivery ensure that Lawrence's responses to Freddy's low-brow antics get laughs, and his deep singing voice adds emotion to his songs, especially the beautifully sung "Love Sneaks In."
While Delp has played several romantic leading men in musicals at Hale over the last year, including Sky in Guys and Dolls and Jervis in Daddy Long Legs, here he throws himself into the role of Freddy with gleeful abandonment. Delp looks like he is having an absolute blast as Freddy, and his perfect double-takes and rubbery facial expressions are crowd pleasers. Delp's gorgeous singing voice excels on his two comic solos, "Great Big Stuff" and "Love is My Legs." Stuart and Delp play off each other very well, which adds to the humor in the production.
Amanda Valenzuela is appropriately bright-eyed and adorable as the clumsy, warm and naïve Christine Colgate. Her singing voice is lovely and she hits some impressive high notes on her solos. She also plays off Stuart and Delp very well. Raymond Barcelo is dashing as Lawrence's right-hand man Andre, and Kathleen Richards is elegant and fun as Muriel, the slightly older woman Lawrence cons. Barcelo and Richards form a winning twosome you want to see succeed and both have warm and bright singing voices. Though she is only in a few short scenes, Stephanie Funk is an absolute hoot as Jolene, the country girl Lawrence tries to outwit. The members of the small and excellent ensemble play several supporting parts and each gets a moment or two to shine.
Lincoln Wright's music direction achieves beautiful sounds from the cast and while the musical tracks are pre-recorded, they are excellent. Brian Daily's set design is simple yet superb, with a gorgeous painted-tile design on the floor and rich, elegant touches on the various props and set pieces. The lighting design by Tim Dietlein is striking, using blues and pinks to beautifully depict the sun and sea aspects of the Mediterranean setting. Tia Hawkes's exceptional costumes are a non-stop parade of well-tailored suits, tuxedos, and attractive dresses.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a musical with a few drawbacks, including a score that has a couple of songs that aren't quite as good as the rest and a lead female character who doesn't appear until well into the first act. However, it has an abundance of funny situations, a rich story with plenty of cat and mouse twists and turns, and three-dimensional characters, all of which help to smooth over the few small quibbles I have with the musical itself. With an exceptional cast, clear direction, and superb creative aspects, Hale Centre Theatre's production has a big heart that brings a large dose of emotion and charm, but it's also full of fun, foolishness, and non-stop screwball comedy moments, making for a fun, upbeat, crowd-pleasing event.
Hale has implemented many safety protocols for this production, in line with both city and state requirements, including a limitation on audience capacity, socially distanced seating, and a mask requirement for all audience members. Some of these safety measure may change due to the latest CDC requirements. A list of all safety requirements can be found on the company's website.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs through June 26, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily