A trio of showstopping performances highlight Actors’ Repertory Theatre Of Simi’s crowd-pleasing production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, one of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious Broadway musicals ever.

1379828_10153570771980001_603215938_n Based on a 1964 Marlon Brando-David Niven-Shirley Jones comedy (Bedtime Story) remade in 1988 with a new title (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and an even funnier set of leads (Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headley), Dirty Rotten Soundrels became a great big 2005 Broadway musical hit starring John Lithgow, Norman Leo Butz, and Sheri Rene Scott, one which scored eleven Tony nominations and one big win for Best Actor Butz.

1376537_10200514002005330_1027641061_n 547192_10200514000285287_1114432519_n Movie/Broadway buffs know the plot. Sophisticated con-artist Laurence Jameson (Kristopher Kyer ), prowling the French Rivera in search of wealthy women to swindle, is persuaded to take crude upstart Freddy Benson (Stephen Weston) under his wings and show him the ropes. The arrival of “The American Soap Queen” Christine Colgate (Christanna Rowader) prompts the scoundrelly duo to make a deal: The first to bilk Christine out of $50,000 gets exclusive rights to the Riviera and the other must pack his bags and get out of town. Laughs, romance, surprises, and occasionally raunch ensue.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrel’s Broadway musicalization features one of the most laugh-packed books in recent memory (Jeffrey Lane takes the best of screenwriters Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning’s dialog and adds his own touches), music by David Yazbeck (even better than his score for The Full Monty), and some of the cleverest lyrics in memory (by Yazbek again), hysterical morcels like “If music be the food of love, he ate my smorgasbord” and “Give me paisley silk pajamas, poker with Al Roker and our friend Lorenzo Lamas.”

1000729_10200513998405240_1701592957_n Under Sean Harrington’s more than capable direction, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ three stars deliver performances that would not be out of place in a bigger-budgeted Equity production. (Indeed leading man Kyer appears courtesy of Actors Equity.)

His hair silvered for the role, the debonair Kyer gives Lawrence precisely the right blend of suaveness and sophistication, has a deft comedic touch to give Broadway’s Lithgow a run for his money, and delivers velvet vocals to boot.

Leggy, luscious redhead Rowader adds an extra bit of spice to girl-next-door Christine, along with power pipes that can hold a long note long indeed, and terrific chemistry with both her leading men.

1374891_10153570768285001_335089126_n Weston steals scenes right, left, and centerstage as the irrepressibly antic—and believably American-accented—Freddy. Whether impersonating Laurence’s chromosome-deprived fictional brother Ruprect or a supposedly wheelchair-bound Army officer whose hilarious power ballad “Love Is My Legs” is a major show-stopper, London’s gift to Simi Valley keeps finding outrageous new ways to surprise and delight in a career re-defining performance. (And the bloke can sing.)

995865_10200513999005255_1699166579_n 992806_10200513995005155_869018132_n Providing zesty support are Kevin Ellis and Elizabeth Stockton as French police officer/Laurence henchman André and wealthy divorcee Muriel (of Omaha), whose cross-cultural romance (and duet of “Like Ziz, Like Zat”) make Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ B-plot a spicy one. Sharon Gibson is an uninhibited ball of fire as oil heiress Jolene Oakes, whose high-energy “Oklahoma?” (performed with a stageful of two-stepping cowboys and cowgirls) brings the house down and makes Gibson the show’s stealth weapon.

The terrific trio of Jamie Whittington Studer (Lenore), Cynthia Caldwell (Sophia), and choreographer Becky Castells (stepping into Renée’s shoes for the day) play happily bilked victims of Lawrence’s persuasive charms, and along with ensemble members Julio Arroyo, David Bañuelos, dance captain Tori Cusack, Morgan DiFonzo, Kyle Harrington, Ryan Huebner, Allison Lobel, an uncredited Charles Martinez, Andy Mattick, Julie Synder, and director Harrington (understudying for the day) do topnotch work in multiple tracks—as hoity-toity vacationers, hotel employees, or cowboys and cowgirls.

1378466_10200513996965204_337193914_n Choreographer Castells brings out the best in her cast of dancers and movers in the show’s lively production numbers as does musical director Matthew Park with vocals. In addition, Park conducts the production’s great big onstage orchestra, one of the most professional sounding I’ve heard in an ARTS or Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center production.

Having the band onstage proves an inspired move by director Harrington (and provokes a great “adlib” from Weston’s Freddy). Not only is it fun getting to see the musicians, it allows a minimal production design (by Harrington) while maintaining a professional look, with Brenda Miller in charge of the production’s multiple props. Caldwell’s many costumes are Technicolor treats, especially as bathed by Alex Choate’s nicely-designed lighting. Amped voices are expertly mixed with the orchestra’s instrumentals.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is produced by ARTS artistic director Jan Glasband. Dean Johnson is assistant director. Megan Tisler is production stage manager and Lacey Stewart technical director.

Like Monty Python’s Spamalot and Avenue Q before it, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is that rare musical, one that even folks who profess to hate musicals may end up enjoying every bit as much as Broadway show buffs. Check out Actors’ Repertory Theatre Of Simi’s production and you’ll see why.

Actors’ Repertory Theatre Of Simi, Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.

–Steven Stanley
November 10, 2013
Photos: Melissa Miller

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