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'Scoundrels' hardly a dirty, rotten rendition of 1988 film

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

CLEVELAND "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" fans, rejoice.

The musical adaptation, which opened Wednesday and plays through June 24 at Playhouse Square Center, is as entertaining as the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. In fact, the eclectic choreography of the Broadway musical and its passionate show-stopper "The More We Dance," further energizes an already engaging story. Some of the book scenes and songs detract from the story, but overall this musical is a winner.

The sexy musical, featuring high-octane performances from a national touring cast, is a delightful mix of belly laughs and jaw-dropping twists and turns. It won a 2005 Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and was nominated for multiple Tony Awards in numerous categories, including Best Musical.

The musical's "Pie-in-the-Face" style humor produces knee-jerk laughs, yet a sophisticated, well-thought out plot lies at the center of the musical.

Lawrence Jameson prides himself in having no competition from other conmen in the French Riviera town of Beaumont sur Mer, designed elegantly and with flair by set designer David Rockwell. Jameson's smooth sailing is interrupted when he learns someone referred to "The Jackal" might be encroaching on his territory.

Then Freddy Benson, a young con man who may or may not be "The Jackal," arrives on the scene to further threaten Jameson's grip on Beaumont sur Mer. Both soon realize the resort is not big enough for the both of them.

And that's where the fun really starts.

There's a juicy wager, hilarious cases of mistaken identity, an airhead from Oklahoma, a spastic "sibling" and fierce battle between the two con men, who could not be more different: Jameson's an older, suave, debonair British gent who dresses impeccably and targets wealthy female tourists, while Benson is a young, slovenly, boorish American who targets sympathetic women with fictional, pathetic stories of his ailing grandmother.

Benson is supposed to look like an outsider and the costume designer makes sure he does: He dresses him in jeans, a casual jacket and shirt quite a difference from the suit jacket, bow-tied-clad Jameson and the other well-dressed residents of Beaumont sur Mer. The only thing Benson and Jameson seem to have in common is their con business.

Sticking an odd couple or two in a story is certainly one effective way to implement humor and conflict. Just look at Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from "The Odd Couple," or Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle from the classic musical "My Fair Lady."

In fact, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" reminds me of "My Fair Lady," with the teacher-student relationship between Jameson and Benson.

Multiple ward-winning actor Tom Hewitt captures Jameson's smoothness, and radiates mischievous glee and a smugness in the tradition of Higgins. Hewitt told "Playbill Magazine" he savors large-than-life roles, and it shows in this performance. He loses himself in this character, and is a ball of constant energy from the opening curtain.

D.B. Bonds does a nice Jim Carrey imitation as the loud-mouthed Benson and also captures the confidence necessary for playing a con man. Bond's performance is quite a contrast from Martin's one-dimensional performance in the film; Martin has that clueless expression he wears in just about all of his films.

Musical book writer Jeffrey Lane shows he's anything but clueless in adapting the film for the stage: Lane retains the film's uproarious dialogue and characters, plot twists and the movie's ending, which will leave you stunned.

Chances are you won't remember the songs after leaving the theater, with the exception of "The More We Dance." However, the engaging, farcical story makes "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" anything but dirty and rotten.

Aaron Krause is a Reflector staff writer. Reach him at [email protected].


WHAT: "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" the musical version of the 1988 film

WHEN: Through June 24. Various times

WHERE: Playhouse Square Center, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

HOW MUCH: Various prices. Call (216) 241-6000 or (800) 766-6048.

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