Flashy ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ Is First Back At The Maltz
As long as you’ve come to the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s first production back in its newly renovated theatre space in search of a good time rather than anything more substantial, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Loosely based on a 1988 film, this hedonistic comedic romp has as its protagonist the suave silver fox scammer Lawrence Jamison, who has a bizarre money-making scheme down to a science. By seducing and swindling wealthy women who pass through as tourists with an absurd lie about being a foreign prince in need of funds, Lawrence has established a life living large in the French Riviera, and being in cahoots with local police chief Andre means he’s more or less safe from repercussions as he does so.
It’s only the arrival of Freddy, a young and brutish wannabe fraudster who emerges to encroach on Lawrence’s territory, that threatens to throw a wrench into the latter’s well-practiced antics. Lawrence first tries to reluctantly take Freddy on as something of an apprentice before arriving instead at an unusual ultimatum in an attempt to get rid of the pest: the first to con their next mark, the fresh-faced new arrival Christine, out of $50,000 dollars, is the one who gets to stay on.
While the show feels a little aimless until this challenge gets established mid-way through the first act, from then on the bet does give more of a sense of stakes to the proceeding; well, at least as much of a sense of stakes as can be had when dealing with such hard-to root for protagonists.
Though one would suppose the well-off nature of Lawrence and Freddy’s “targets” in some sense justifies their shameless deception of them, forgive me if it took me a few numbers to get over my instinctive aversion to a musical that revolves, pretty much, around men lying to and manipulating women, and which is also one in which all the female characters look more or less like naive idiots until one charming twist late in Act 2 finally turns the tables.
Its also one in which Freddy not only distastefully pretends to be Lawrence’s cognitively disabled younger brother but then impersonates a wounded veteran later in the same act. However, the sheer outrageousness of the show’s off-color humor eventually did help me to start taking it less seriously; and, for all its politically incorrect implications, the ridiculous number in which Freddy drove off his clingy mark Jolene as Lawrence’s dim-witted brother Ruprecht was one of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ funnier ones.
If anything, the later subplot in which Freddy purports to Christine to be Sergeant Fred Benson, who became paralyzed not in war but in psychosomatic reaction to having caught his fiance cheating on him, is even more broad and ridiculous.
The fact that the show was too silly to bother taking actual umbrage with also isn’t to say that it isn’t, often, quite witty in its stupidity, with many a clever lyric or joke adding to the show’s consistent comedy. A catchy and varied score and many a fun musical diversion keep the proceedings from getting too predictable or tedious, and high class costumes, frequently shifting sets, and engaging choreography keep all visually interesting as well.
Though the combination of these factors means that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has a higher than average moment-to-moment entertainment value, in the end, the fact that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ main characters aren’t out for anything but their own ends still leave it feeling somewhat vacant, even soulless.
But this is for sure no fault of the hardworking actors, who put forth a tremendous amount of talent and effort to sell the show’s madcap plot. Lukas Poost is probably the MVP as Freddy, offering the over the top energy needed for the cocky character, David Engel gets the chance to shine slightly more subtly as Lawrence—well, as subtle as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels gets, which is to say, not very, which means that Engel still gets to show off his comedy chops in sequences like the ones in which he imitates a kooky German doctor.
The featured and leading ladies of the proceedings—Kirsten Wyatt as driven divorcee Muriel, Jen Cody as the spunky southerner Jolene, and Julie Kavanagh as compassionate Cinnitician Christine—also deserve accolades, as do the ensemble for keeping up with all the show’s song and dance antics; in particular, the facial expressions of whatever actor appeared as an accordion player added much to the scenes that he appeared in.
Though Dirty Rotten Scoundrels finally got sentimental as its main characters got somewhat humbled, a romantic subplot emerges between two side characters, and Lawrence proves himself to have at least something of a heart, it’s not enough to bring the show beyond its fundamental feeling of shallowness, which itself feels like a result of the underdeveloped characters and character relationships as well as the show’s scammer subjects.
Perhaps Dirty Rotten Scoundrels could even be compared to its sleazy main character in that it offers all the intimations of elegance without having much substance underneath. But, as Lawrence justifies himself in opening number “Giving Them What They Want,” referring to the heiresses he satisfies by sating their craving for romance and adventure, the production can be justified by the fact that a good old crowd pleaser is what lot of people want these days. I, for one, have never really been one of those people, but I recognize that I’m the outlier; so if it’s an excellently produced escapist palate cleanser that you’re in the mood for, then by all means step up to plate before this April 10th!