I have to confess that I’m a sucker for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
I’m in good company. After all, the point of this buoyant musical homage to con artistry, insofar as it has one beyond the provision of joy, is that just about anyone — even the most sophisticated of scammers — is susceptible to becoming a mark. It’s all a matter of psychology, as the more suave of the show’s two male grifters declares in the opening number, “Give Them What They Want.”
The musical (with a witty book by Jeffrey Lane and equally witty score by David Yazbek) is based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The intoxicating Broadway production opened in 2005 with John Lithgow as Lawrence Jameson, a debonair, multilingual con artist, and the sensational Norbert Leo Butz in a Tony Award-winning turn as his vulgar acolyte, Freddy Benson.
The Resident Theatre Company’s version, directed by founding artistic director Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell and running through April 14, doesn’t attain that level of magic — the sound is thinner, the stage more cramped, and, to be fair, the jokes and twists don’t pack the same punch the second time around. But for Dirty Rotten novices, it’s still a terrific time.
The setting (design by Brian Dudkiewicz, candy-colored lighting by Lily Fossner, costumes by Kayla Speedy) is the French Riviera town of Beaumont-sur-Mer, a tourist playground where identities are easily assumed and just as easily cast off.
Lawrence (Mark Woodard), posing as a deposed prince, is initially annoyed by the sudden appearance of Freddy (Lukas Poost), a younger, more primitive interloper with only the most rudimentary scams in his toolbox. But their rivalry soon assumes the contours of a Pygmalion story, complete with direct quotation (“He’s so deliciously low … ”) from My Fair Lady. “Teach me,” Freddy begs Lawrence, the goal being his acquisition of “Great Big Stuff.”
He turns out to be an apt pupil. In the character of the dim-witted, perversely inappropriate Ruprecht, Freddy helps Lawrence escape the Okie heiress Jolene Oaks (Philippa Lynas), whose ensemble number is a hat tip to Oklahoma!. Then the two compete to bilk and perhaps even bed a soap queen, Christine Colgate (Bailey Seeker, radiating innocence).
Supplying subplot is an improbable romance between the tourist Muriel Eubanks (Sarah Solie, comically precise and vocally impressive) and police chief Andre Thibault (Jonathan Hadley, oozing Gallic charm), which mainly suggests that love is, in fact, a folie à deux, a shared delusion.
Woodard (King Arthur in R.T.C.’s Monty Python’s Spamalot) carries off a range of accents and languages, and he’s particularly funny in the number “The More We Dance,” thanks to choreography by Dann Dunn. Poost (Sir Robin in Spamalot) doesn’t dominate the show as Butz did, but he sings well and excels at physical comedy. (My companion was reminded of Steve Martin’s mannerisms in the film.)
Mixing high and low, clever parody and broad farce, Lane’s book periodically breaks the fourth wall, poking fun at itself. Mitchell similarly directs her characters to stray offstage, engaging the audience more fully in the show’s exuberant fantasy.