In a town in France, a dapper gentleman makes his living by posing as a prince and defrauding female tourists. He extracts plenty of money until an up-and-coming con artist threatens to expose him. The competition is on as they prey upon the same woman in the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, presented recently at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts.
Based on the 1988 film of the same name, which starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the story is driven by the competitive relationship between the mentor, Lawrence (Robert Pavlovich), and the brash young Freddy (Gary Rucker). Pavlovich is an exceedingly charming and suave Lawrence, who easily deceives many women. He is like a James Bond who can sing. The presence of his bodyguard Andre (Louis Dudoussat) gives him an air of importance, and Dudoussat imbues him with a sinister yet naive quality. Freddy is crass and unrefined, and Rucker is fantastic in the role as he revels in vulgarity, spouts sexual innuendos and thrusts his hips. Rucker's comedic timing turns the smallest joke into a substantial laugh.
Eric Porter created an elaborate set, and there were changes for almost every scene. A dungeon quickly became a club and then a fancy hotel room.
Choreographer Caroline Cuseo's dance numbers were exceptional. Routines incorporated the entire ensemble and punctuated the funniest moments. When Oklahoman Jolene Oakes (Kelly Fouchi) mistakenly believes Lawrence is offering to marry her, the cast comes out in Western shirts and 10-gallon hats. They perform an acrobatic line dance that sends them twirling around the stage.
The cast's playfulness helps pull off the comedy, but the plot relies heavily on a series of hijinks and double-crosses. At times, dialogue is self-referential and comments directly on the absurdity of the action, and that causes the narrative to drag. It is hard not to roll one's eyes at some of the self-conscious jokes, but the cast, especially Rucker, keeps it palatable.
The story takes its most dramatic and satisfying turn when "American Soap Queen" Christine Colgate (Kayla Herrington) arrives and the two con artists enter a bet to see who can scam $50,000 from her. Herrington is convincingly doe-eyed and innocent, which helps focus the second act. Her emotional range keeps the show from getting lost in its premise. Herrington has the strongest voice in the cast and sings many of the plot's most crucial songs.
While a few jokes in Scoundrels came off as too easy, the production succeeds by combining great choreography, a talented cast and an excellent set.