Review: The Con is On with 'DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS' at Musical Theatre West

Michael L. Quintos

  • OnStage Los Angeles Critic

Long Beach, CA - The con is on! With plenty of wit, charm, and double entendres galore, Musical Theatre West's new regional production of the 2004 Broadway musical comedy 'DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS' is one enjoyably silly romp. The show which features a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbeck continues its limited run at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Long Beach through July 24.

Based on the 1998 film comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the stage adaptation (which had its pre-Broadway debut at San Diego's Old Globe) eventually garnered 11 Tony nominations during its run. For MTW's fun local revival, the title roles—a couple of con men who've taken to swindling the riches off of easily-seduced women in the French Riviera—are embodied by stage vets Davis Gaines (now a multiple fixture at MTW) and the incredibly funny Benjamin Schrader (The Book of Mormon). 

The casting is inspired. Gaines plays suave ladies' man Lawrence Jameson, whose seemingly opulent lifestyle and Brit phrasing act as an enticingly posh smokescreen for his ability to romance women from their cash. Schrader—in one of the most showy, funniest performances I've seen this year—plays Freddy Benson, a younger, less-sophisticated yet still brilliant con man who tugs on women's heartstrings of sympathy to gain their trust. Lawrence, perhaps seeing a little bit of his roguish young self in him, takes a liking to Freddy upon witnessing him in action.

Thus a partnership is born. Freddy wants to learn from the more seasoned Lawrence—especially after seeing Lawrence's mansion and the "great big stuff" in it. Lawrence in turn likes the idea of a protégé, much to the dismay of Lawrence's long time Frenchy assistant André (Kyle Nudo). The two new partners collaborate in one of the show's most hilarious sequences that has Freddy pretending to be Lawrence's very, um, eccentric "special" brother Ruprecht in order to repulse a rich, gun-toting Oklahoman (Jennifer Kranz) named Jolene Oakes from marrying Lawrence.

But, as one might expect, they soon learn that having a partner to rely on (and to split profits with) is perhaps not the best idea, especially since each guy thinks the other, well, isn't as good at the con game as they initially thought. 

So both men devise a bet: the first man to successfully swindle a huge sum of money ($50,000) from the newly-arrived "soap queen" Christine Colgate (the luminous Rebecca Ann Johnson) wins the right to stay in town, while the other must pack up and go. Naturally, the two men go at this scheme pretty hard, culminating in one hilarious con sequence after another as they try their best to one-up each other. For his part, Freddy pretends to be a war vet paralyzed from the waste down and confined to a wheelchair (cue the "awwwws" please). Lawrence, in a brilliant bit of piggy-backing (much to the anger of Freddy), pretends to be the very fictional Dr. Shuffhausen, a German specialist that Freddy said himself to Christine has some kind of miracle cure for his ailment.

Meanwhile, as the two scoundrels square off with each other, a dejected André finds himself falling in love with one of Lawrence's previously discarded victims, Muriel (Cynthia Ferrer). It's a cute pairing, sure, that adds some, well, extra padding and breathing room to the story, I suppose.

Amusingly droll, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is a lively musical comedy that offers plenty of harmless silliness for an entertaining evening. Director and choreographer Billy Sprague Jr. doles out sequences with well-paced ease, allowing funny sequences to shine and not letting other, not-so-funny places linger (though, admittedly, a few do here and there, which could have used some more oomph overall). Yazbeck's music, while not too memorable, sounds fantastic from the pit under the direction of musical director John Glaudini. The hues of the French Riviera are replicated wonderfully in Karen St. Pierre's costumes, Jean Yves Tessier's lighting, and Kevin Clowes' sets. My only real gripe is not seeing the train sequence (and its set) which has been excised from this particular production.

What the show lacks in edginess, it makes up for it with rousing musical numbers from a very enthusiastic ensemble, a few outrageous sequences, and, of course, the goofy, over-caffeinated antics of Schrader, whose limber comedy stylings are a bust-your-gut laugh-riot throughout the night (his "Ruprecht" and wheelchair cons are highlights). Gaines, far more reserved (perhaps purposely so), provides a worthy calmer counterpoint—a Prof. Hill with a far better, more chic wardrobe. Even his ill-timed "whacks" of a stick on poor Schrader feel so silly that their out-of-sync sound effect during the opening night performance feels almost too absurd—that it ends up being even funnier. Even the sexual innuendo feels tame and cheesy by today's standards, but, for me it's actually kind of adorably charming. If you need a smile, this show induces them.

And as a trio, Gaines, Schrader and Johnson make for a very beguiling triangle. But, bottom line, the show itself becomes much more amped up with every presence of Schrader, the show's true reason to see this particular production. Get this guy a sitcom, stat! 

Overall, MTW has another winner with DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.

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Photos © Caught In The Moment Photography/Musical Theatre West

Final remaining performances of Musical Theatre West's production of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS continue through Sunday, July 24, 2016 and are scheduled Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is performed at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located at 6200 E. Atherton Street in Long Beach, CA. For tickets or for more information, please call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit online at