Glendale Centre Theatre offers musical theater lovers a mid-week treat with the 2005 Tony Best Musical nominee Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, giving its audiences one of Broadway’s (and GCT’s) most laugh-out-loud hilarious shows ever.
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.
Broadway buffs know the plot. Sophisticated con-artist Laurence Jameson (Marc Ginsburg on the GCT stage), prowling the French Rivera in search of wealthy women to swindle, is persuaded to take crude upstart Freddy Benson (Justin Michael Wilcox) under his wings and show him the ropes. The arrival of “The American Soap Queen” Christine Colgate (Andrea Arvanigian) prompts the scoundrelly duo to make a deal: The first one 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 occasional raunch ensue, or at least the latter was the case on Broadway. (Glendale Centre Theatre has done its usual sanitizing so as not to offend conservative subscribers, though not too much this time, thank goodness.)
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.” (Note: GCT neglects to give program credit to any of the above nor are they mentioned in press materials.)
I’ve now seen seven productions of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, including the original on Broadway, and Glendale Centre Theatre’s in-the-round revival is one of the best of the bunch, thanks to ace director Randy Brenner, choreographic whiz Orlando Alexander, sensational lead performers, and a triple-threat ensemble more than up to the show’s many singing-dancing-acting challenges.
Director Brenner reveals himself a master at staging scenes arena-style so that no matter where you’re seated, you won’t feel shortchanged, and Alexander’s delightful choreography likewise plays to all sides of the house.
As for the performances Brenner elicits from his three Equity guest artists and their non-Eq leading lady, all four deliver the comedic-vocal goods, and then some.
Following star turns as nerd extraordinaire Leo in The Producers and as a commanding Cervantes/Don Quijote in GCT’s recent Man Of La Mancha, Ginsburg once again proves himself the epitome of versatility, with an equally wow-worthy performance as the suavest and most sophisticated of scoundrels, dirty, rotten, or otherwise.
Wilcox matches his partner in crime every step of the way as the irrepressibly antic 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. (Just watching Wilcox’s attempts to take a bite of beef jerky is almost worth the price of admission.)
As for Carothers, the Southland musical theater vet has never been better—or funnier—than he is as French police officer/Laurence henchman André, whose cross-cultural romance with wealthy divorcee Muriel of Omaha (and duet of “Like Ziz, Like Zat”) make Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ B-plot a spicy one.
Glendale Centre Theatre hit the jackpot in giving the radiant Arvanigian her first GCT starring role. The leading lady is not only girl-next-door gorgeous as Christine, she’s got the comedic chops to land a sitcom lead given just a little bit of luck.
Rachel McLaughlan follows in a certain legendary redheaded comedienne’s footsteps as oil heiress Jolene Oakes, whose high-energy “Oklahoma?” is just one of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ surefire showstoppers.
Lastly, though I found Tiffany Labarbera-Palmer miscast as sophisticated 50something socialite Muriel, the Glendale Centre Theatre staple exhibits comedic flair and the same top-notch vocals as her castmates.
While smaller in number than most musical comedy ensembles, Christopher Curry, Christa Hamilton, Kevin Holmquist, Tim Lim, Katy Marcella, Kristin Morris, Paul Reid, and Jade Rosenberg make up one of the best bunch of triple-threats I’ve seen on the GCT stage, performing in a variety of roles—as happily bilked victims of Lawrence’s persuasive charms, hoity-toity vacationers, hotel employees, and high-stepping cowboys and cowgirls, among others.
Musical director Steven Applegate does his accustomed fine work, his cast performing to prerecorded tracks, with kudos to whoever’s up in the sound booth for some razor-sharp cues.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels looks terrific, with costume designer Angela Wood’s colorful costumes lit to perfection by Alex Mackyol. The uncredited scenic design is a winner too, revealing the same assured use of the GCT arena stage that other productions have displayed.
Nick Mizrahi is stage manager. Alexandra Kershner is assistant to the 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.
Even moderately cleaned up, it’s a bit of a daring choice for Glendale Centre Theatre, and I for one am glad GCT took that dare.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
April 15, 2015