The musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Players Theatre takes its comedy seriously.
Jeffrey Lane’s book, based on the popular Steve Martin/Michael Caine film, is clever, witty and filled with surprises (matched by director Michael Newton-Brown’s set). And David Yazbek’s jazz-flavored score with French accents offers lyrics that deliver on that same sense of humor.
The musical about two rival con men working wealthy women in the same small French Riviera town has a feeling of mischief and fun in Newton-Brown’s production. There are elements that need more punch (primarily the ensemble singing and dancing), but the six performers at the heart of the story provide both the exaggeration and subtlety called for.
Timothy Fitzgerald plays Lawrence Jameson, who has been masquerading as a prince to win money from his marks to support his non-existent army. But his scam is disrupted by the arrival of the crass young newcomer Freddy Benson (played by Scott Vitale), who thinks a $20 “contribution” is a big score. “Oh, the young” you can almost hear Lawrence thinking. “They have so much to learn.”
Despite a stern warning about trouble ahead from the helpful police chief Andre (played by Ken Basque), Lawrence decides to take Freddy under his wing. He’ll teach him the ropes, at least until they end up betting who can score first with a soap heiress named Christine Colgate, played delightfully by Amanda Heisey.
That rivalry (and a few surprises along the way) provide the fun of the show, as Freddy and Lawrence take different approaches to win Christine’s money. Freddy pretends to be a wheelchair-bound veteran who is numb from the waist down. Lawrence helpfully presents himself as a prominent Austrian therapist who uses a riding crop and other painful treatments to test Freddy’s resolve.
Of course, romance gets in the way, too. Both men feel attracted to Christine, who seems to return their feelings. And then there’s the surprising love that blooms between Andre and Muriel Eubanks, a bored American looking for projects and needing some comfort. Basque and Cara Herman have a nice rapport as they sing about how they want to ravish each other.
Fitzgerald, who may not be the ultimate picture of debonaire, does project a level of cultured panache in a fine contrast to the antic explosions Vitale delivers. Vitale is a vibrant presence and it’s fun to watch his reactions each time that riding crop approaches his legs.
Those who have seen Heisey in a couple of plays in the last two years will enjoy watching her blossom on stage in her first large musical role. She conveys a sweet innocence through much of the show, with clever variations as the story develops. She still needs a bit more confidence in her singing, but she is fun to watch.
Players newcomer Andrea Keddell gets into the spirit of wealthy rancher Jolene, who is ready to lasso Lawrence back to Oklahoma.
The cast is well supported by musical director Joyce Valentine and her large orchestra, and Mike Wood’s lighting and Kathy Sutton’s costumes fit right in with with the style and humor of these “Scoundrels.”
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Jeffrey Lane. Directed by Michael Newton-Brown. Reviewed March 20, Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Extended through April 6. Tickets are $25, $30 for premium seats. 365-2494; theplayers.org