Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Interact, 3/21/10

30 03 2010

When Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was nominated for Best Musical in 2005, I was less-than-impressed with the Tony Award show performance.  Out of context, Freddy (even played by the wonderful, Tony Award-winning Norbert Leo Butz) came off as simply an annoying character, and the rap-like “Great Big Stuff” turned me off from the show.  Amazing how a single song can put a bad taste in your mouth; I hadn’t bought the cast recording and hadn’t bothered seeing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when I visited NYC in fall 2006, just before it closed.

But everything deserves a full chance.  I decided to give Dirty Rotten Scoundrels an honest try with Interact Theatre Company’s recent production – and experienced a complete change of heart.  Note to self: never judge a musical by its Tony Award performance.  Winner of Best Musical in 2005, Spamalot‘s Tony medley showcased its best material; while the musical has its funny moments (usually when parodying other Broadway shows), I found Spamalot as a whole to be only mildly entertaining.  On the other hand, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels‘ “Great Big Stuff” turns out to be a wonderfully character-specific musical moment in the context of a hysterical throwback to classic musical comedy. (It has its deliciously dirty moments of parody too – with amusing nods to My Fair Lady.)  Interact’s playful production allowed Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s musical to shine in a new light for me.

On the French Riviera, experienced (i.e. old and debonair) con artist Lawrence Jameson falls in with aspiring (i.e. young and quirky) con artist Freddy.  Although ostensibly competing against one another, Lawrence and Freddy become a dynamic duo in swindling wealthy women out of their money – while sometimes being swindled themselves.  In the context of the musical, I still found Freddy a little annoying – but simultaneously endearing, especially when portrayed by the lovable Matt Wolpe.  Along with a dashing Chip Phillips as Lawrence and cute Kelly Lohman as Christine Colgate (the Soap Queen to be swindled), the leads provide an incredibly solid foundation for the show, offering strong vocals and excellent comedic timing.  Ensemble harmonies are sometimes a bit muddled and overpower the leads, but Freddy and Christine’s “Love Is Your Legs” – with soaring gospel solos and a backup choir – still sends the audience into fits of laughter.  The live band, led by music director Johanna Kent, does a particularly nice job striking a balance with singers.

Pulled back from the Broadway stage to the NoHo Arts Center, Deborah “Dove” Huntley’s set design provides a smaller-scale, lush setting that easily and clearly transforms from one locale to another. Richard Israel’s clean direction makes full use of the space – even the audience – and Tracy Powell’s choreography brightens up musical numbers, although her work is sometimes poorly executed by ensemble members; you will not see quite the precision dance one would expect of a Broadway production.

While still not one of my favorite musicals, Interact’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels nonetheless offers outstanding performances, a well-designed show, and a welcome revision of my previous opinion of this musical.  It may be time to purchase that cast recording!

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