Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review
If you’re looking for an evening of hilarious, swank-ified, and slightly scandalizing entertainment, look no further than Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport! The production, directed by Drew Humphrey with choreography by Mandy Modic, just kicked off its opening weekend on January 19. It was an incredible musical that was impeccably cast.
The story, based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, centers around two con-men—who happen to meet on a train to the French Riviera—who become rivals and end up battling to out-con the other.
After a gorgeous opening dance number with the mischievous-sounding Overture, we’re introduced right away to our first protagonist, Lawrence Jameson, played by James Sasser. We watch as Lawrence, an incredibly smooth provocateur dripping with sophistication, swindles wealthy women with his charm and convincing tale of being fallen royalty. After an “honest” day’s work he heads home on the train. The percussion chugs along to sound like a rushing train as he overhears the second protagonist—Freddy Benson, played by Danny Gardner, a sloppy man-child in a Hawaiian shirt—spinning his paper-thin fabrications to the wealthy woman across from him. And it is there the fun begins and hilarity ensues!
After they meet, Freddy catches Lawrence in his lies and follows him to his bourgeois chateau. Freddy begs to be trained in order to secure the best of what life has to offer. “Great Big Stuff”, Freddy’s first song, gives the audience a clear look into his character— and contains one of the biggest laughs of the show. Let’s just say one of the lines rhymes with crass and, with that being said, this show is most certainly not family friendly!
Lawrence teaches Freddy about sophistication and class, all the while Lawrence’s right-hand man, Andre, watches with French disdain, performing his hilarious solo number, “Chimp in a Suit”. After training, Lawrence soon realizes he needs Freddy’s assistance once a con—involving an Oklahoma woman who is a bit trigger-happy with her pistol—goes sideways. Freddy knows it’s his time to shine as he pretends to be Lawrence’s disturbed brother, Ruprecht, to scare her off. My stomach genuinely hurt from laughing after that scene!
I won’t spoil the rest of the show, so suffice it to say Lawrence and Freddy’s relationship goes south and they become rivals. To settle things, they make a bet on a woman, Christine Colgate, played by Emily Larger, as she arrives in the Riviera. Whoever can extract $50,000 from her first wins—and the loser must leave town. A high stakes bet! The tension between their characters sends the show barreling ahead.
Freddy assumes a false identity—a veteran whose psychosomatic symptoms have put him in a wheelchair—in order to get close to Christine, and, by the end of the second act, so does Lawrence. If you’d like to know what happens, I suppose you have to just go see the show for yourself!
Freddy (Gardner) and Lawrence (Sasser) have incredible chemistry as foils to each other. Sometimes sophisticated characters can fall flat, with their elevated body language and swanky accent, but Sasser’s performance was quite the opposite. His commitment to his character(s) didn’t waver for a moment. Additionally, his singing throughout the show was a delight and, might I say, a feat—some of the numbers had a word every eighth note and he sang them out with ease. Numbers like “All About Ruprecht” and “The More We Dance” come to mind.
Gardener’s performance was just as impressive at the opposite end of the sophistication-spectrum. His mannerisms and delivery of dialogue were spot on for his immature, crudely hilarious character. The ease at which he slipped between personas—sentimental one moment, checking his watch behind Christine’s back as she belts out a sappy ballad the next—was nothing short of phenomenal. His duet with Christine (Larger) “Love is my Legs” was a highlight of the show, and had the audience rolling with laughter.
Larger’s performance as Christine Colagate was both solid and full of surprises, including her enormous vocal range, which was showcased beautifully in her solo number “Here I Am”. She was quite convincing as the sweet Soap Queen from Cincinnati.
Supporting roles that were integral to the success of the show include Andre, Lawrence’s devoted (and sarcastic) right-hand man, played by Matthew Bryan Feld; Muriel Eubanks, one of Lawrence’s sweet past victims, played by Gina Milo; and Jolene Oakes, the square-dancin’, gun wieldin’ tornado from Oklahoma, played by Suzanne Mason.
The ensemble was small but a perfect size—they committed to their characters in each change of scene and number, and were all phenomenal singers and dancers. The choreography in each musical number was unique and exquisitely executed. The orchestra handled the jazzy-pop score beautifully and without a hitch. Their performances, without a doubt, all added to the utter
excellence of the show!
Overall, whether you’re familiar with the original movie, or have never heard of it in your life, make time to go see this show! It runs January 19 through March 5 and is hilarious and engaging at every twist and turn.