Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

  • Date:
    March 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Opened: 3 Mar 2005
    Book by: Jeffrey Lane
    music & lyrics by: David Yazbek
    Directed by: Jack O'Brien
    Starring: John Lithgow, Norbert Leo Butz, Sherie Rene Scott, Joanna Gleason, Gregory Jbara and Sara Gettelfinger
    Synopsis: Set in the glamorous French Riviera where two con men meet and decide that the town isn�t big enough for both of them. They agree to a contest: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young female heiress wins and the other man must leave town. A hilarious battle of cons ensues bringing out the best and the worst in both men..

    In 'The Producers', Mel Brooks� spoof of Broadway mores, two inept would-be impresarios put on a truly tasteless show that becomes a surprise smash hit. The real producers of 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' have created a truly tasteless show (about two inept would-be con artists) that they hope will be a smash without the spoof.

    Based on a 1988 movie of the same name that starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin, which was itself a remake of a 1963 movie called 'Bedtime Story' that starred David Niven and Marlon Brando, this show has a book by Jeffrey Lane, previously a television writer, and music and lyrics by David Yazbek, last represented by Broadway by the musical adaptation of the movie 'The Full Monty'.

    It is set on the French Riviera in the �60s when it was presumably populated by a superfluity of rich American divorc�es with too much money and time on their hands. Apparently, these over-dressed women serve as perfect marks for the �talents� of the permanently-dinner-jacketed Lawrence and for his rival Freddy the slob, who looks like he�d be most at home as a tout at a second-rate racetrack.

    In the overlong first act, Lawrence and Freddy try to work together which leads, in the second act, to a contest about who can hit their mark to best effect. None of it works out as intended. The level of enjoyment you will derive from following their adventures is directly proportional to your tolerance for humor of the 'Saturday Night Live variety'. Some examples:

    There�s one really clever number, �Oklahoma?�, that is a direct challenge to the idealized state presented in the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Unfortunately, it is buried in a long meaningless digression in the first act and adds nothing to the main thrust of the story. More typical of the score is �Love is My Legs� where a would-be paramour promises that �I�ll be your socks�.�.

    On a cold day, it was a pleasure to bask in the warmth of David Rockwell�s tropical sets. The costumes by Gregg Barnes were appropriate. The choreography by Jerry Mitchell was generic. Director Jack O�Brien kept the whole thing moving at a sprightly pace.

    What generated the by-now-ubiquitous �standing O� at the end of the show was the likeability of the cast. As Lawrence, John Lithgow was appropriately ungraceful in an attractive way. Whether scratching his hairy belly or hiding a candlestick down the front of his pants, Norbert Leo Butz as Freddy could do no wrong for audience members with a sophomoric sense of humor. For me, the real winner was Sherie Rene Scott who has got a Kristin Chenoweth-type perkiness packaged with a gorgeous alto voice. The other leads, Sara Gettelfinger, Joanna Gleason and Gregory Jbara, were fine in rather superfluous roles.

    On Broadway, as in life, you can rarely go wrong by copying a winning formula. Thus Burger King enjoys moderate success as a McDonald�s clone. And K-Mart clings to life copying the lead of Wal-Mart. In the UK, the grocer Sainsbury�s holds on by chasing Tesco�s. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels may well succeed as a modest facsimile of Brooks� runaway hit. To me, it�s strictly second-rate.

    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �The show just doesn't have the self-belief, not to mention the oomph, that can make vulgarity a fine art.� ELYSA GARDNERA of USA TODAY says "Scoundrels is apt to leave you feeling titillated but somehow cheated. " HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says it �There's never a moment when you sense there's something going on beneath the seductive surface. It's all on a single level.� CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says "One of the liveliest, best-performed musicals in years." LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "Scoundrels is a sweet-natured yet droll, dorky but gorgeous, wholesome yet raunchy and somehow sophisticated.� MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "A new and entertaining escapade with a dandy score, an amusing story and glamorous looks." PETER SANTILLI of Associated Press says "A mixed bag of a musical, but there's enough to be savored (especially that terrific cast), so you won't feel taken."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    USA Today
    New York Daily News
    New York Post
    Newsday
    Associated Press