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Theater Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels- The Musical

PC: Jack Grace
Mel Brooks once famously stated, in reference to what people were saying about his work, “my movie rises below vulgarity!” Filmmaker Frank Oz never said anything remotely like that in regards to his popular 1988 Michael Caine/Steve Martin farce, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” However, I can’t imagine him not noting the cheerful raunchiness of the musical adaptation, which just had its local premier at The Historic Iao Theater.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels- The Musical” stars Steven Dascoulias as Lawrence, a con artist with a taste for vulnerable, deep-pocketed women and extravagant living. His French Riviera-based lifestyle and seasonal practice of lying and scheming is threatened by the arrival or Freddy (Maui stage newcomer Ross Young), a brash young American con man, whose approach to the game is obvious. Lawrence is understandably threatened by Freddy, whose clumsy, attention-getting manner (to lying and everything else) could diminish the finely tuned atmosphere of deceit Lawrence has mastered. Their relationship is initially chummy, as Lawrence takes Freddy on as a protégée. The arrival of a Christine (played by Lia Krieg-De Souza), the reputedly wealthy American “Soap Queen,” has them competing both for her inheritance and, later, her affections.

PC: Jack Grace

Director Lisa Teichner keeps the antics moving, cleverly staging one admirably nutty set piece after another (my favorite- an intimate moment between Christine and Freddy is accompanied by the supporting cast, singing while adorned in gospel attire). There are lots of moments here that tease the conventions of stage musicals, though the biggest chuckles come from the contrast provided by the two leads. Dascoulias is consistently great in every role he inhabits and this is no exception; he’s superb as Lawrence, though he’s even funnier in the guise of the sadistic “Dr. Schafffthausen.” Young’s uninhibited, go-for-broke turn is well matched with Dascoulias’ elegant performance. They make a potent, ideally mis-matched comedy team.

Krieg-De Souza is simply dazzling. From her first entrance to her goofy final scene, she gives a full throttle performance. Krieg-De Souza has a knockout voice that matches her luminous presence. Yet, none of that would matter if she didn’t nail her character, which he certainly does. The “Soap Queen” is genuinely sweet. It’s easy to see why her alarmingly kind demeanor rattles Lawrence.

PC: Jack Grace

The strong ensemble cast shines often and adds to the merry tone. Although there are lots of choice comic bits, Laura Cole’s supporting turn made me laugh the hardest. Playing one of Lawrence’s “marks,” Cole (whose commitment to her loony character is quite impressive) has an amazing, out-of-left-field number, extolling the virtues of Oklahoma. I howled so loudly, Teichner brought it up after the show.

Bennett Cale is great as Andre, Lawrence’s assistant and Marsi Smith shines as Muriel; Cale and Smith take the show’s most disposable number (“Like Zis/Like Zat”) and make it a charmer. Caro Walker’s sets evokes elegance, Erin Kowalick’s versatile choreography is terrific and the costumes by Vicki and Jessica Nelson are chic and colorful.

Lately, there have been far too many musicals appearing on Broadway based on beloved motion pictures. As I type this, “Groundhog Day- The Musical” is premiering on Broadway, but it’s far from the only show of its type. Recent years have also seen musicals based on “Saturday Night Fever,” “Sister Act,” “Legally Blonde,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Shrek,” “Ghost,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Flashdance” and “Rocky”(!) playing on Broadway and elsewhere. Having encountered some of these shows and listened to their soundtracks, I can vouch that, while there’s too many of these screen-to-stage adaptations, most of them are surprisingly good. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” will delight fans of the movie but works even if you’ve never seen Steve Martin play “Ruprecht The Monkey Boy.”

While it uses the ’88 film as a jumping-off point, the musical overextends the story. The show itself is too long, with too many endings and more songs than it really needs. Still, Young and Dascoulias are so winning at their rendition of “Dirty Rotten,” the second-to-last number, one can almost overlook the length.

PC: Jack Grace

The appearance of a Mad Magazine as a prop in an early scene is apt: this show is nuts. Teichner’s bubbly and, yes, gleefully vulgar musical comedy is bursting at the seams with entertainment value. It’s also not appropriate for children, as Young’s frequent bouts of dry humping would be harder to explain to a small child than the plot.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels- The Musical runs March 3rd-19th at The Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are available at mauionstage.com or by calling 808-242-6969.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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