There's fun in fraud with Venice Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
By Kay Kipling
Unless you caught the touring production at Van Wezel a year or so ago, Venice Theatre’s current staging of the show Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the first chance locals have had here to see this musical adaptation of two earlier comedy films. And it’s welcome fun.
As with the films, Bedtime Story and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this production introduces us to a couple of con men, Lawrence Jameson (Chris Caswell) and Freddy Benson (Douglas Landin), who are both working a stretch of the French Riviera (it’s really more of a fantasy land), reeling in their all-too-willing female victims with one line or another. Lawrence is older and sophisticated; Freddy is cruder and yet still successful to some extent, at least scaring up meal money with heart-rending stories of his grandmother’s operation, etc.
When the two meet, it’s cause for both competition and collaboration. Lawrence is willing to use Freddy to help get rid of a persistent oil heiress (Nicole Valentino) who thinks she’s going to marry him; in a frequently hilarious scene (All About Ruprecht), Freddy pretends to be Lawrence’s half-wit brother, a slobbering, disgusting loser any woman in her right mind would run away from. But when a possible new mark comes to their playground (Gianna Campo as “soap queen” Christine Colgate), the town just may not be big enough for the both of them, as each tries to move in for the kill.
Throw in a do-gooder American with money (Kim Kollar) who’s been one of Lawrence’s most devout believers and a chief of police (David P. Brown) who’s been his accomplice, and you have a promising bag of comic characters and situations.
Under the direction and choreography of Brad Wages and the musical direction of Rick Bogner, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has its occasional slower moments and some ragged dancing in ensemble numbers; but it also has some sharply timed humor and nicely executed performances from its leads. Caswell has demonstrated his talents on local theater stages for years, and he’s successful here again as a man with more than one side to him. Campo has the right wide-eyed exuberance as Christine, and Valentino scores big with her country-themed number, Oklahoma. Kollar and Brown lend steady support throughout; and David Yazbek’s score offers a lively mix of low-down and dirty (Great Big Stuff), over-the-top funny (Love Is My Legs) and more typical Broadway ballads (Love Sneaks In).
But it’s Douglas Landin as Freddy who is the biggest surprise here. Landin has done shows at VT before, but after seeing him most recently in Stage II’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as amoral climber Nick, who would have guessed he could be so broadly and vulgarly entertaining? His numbers alone are worth the price of admission.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels continues through Dec. 6; call 488-1115 or visit venicestage.com for tickets.