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Entertainment & Lifestyle

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ on stage at Weathervane

6/12/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

From left, Al Klesh, Ed Conrad and Dan Williams share a scene in Western Reserve Playhouse’s “Moonlight and Magnolias.”
Photo: Michael Kermizis
MERRIMAN VALLEY — When the leading characters are the villains and the script is witty and the music can be hummed, it’s obviously “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

The scoundrels have set up operations at Weathervane Playhouse through June 29 and havoc will follow.

But, back up a bit — the movie starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The musical version by Jeffrey Lane (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics) played on Broadway and received several Tony nominations, including a nomination for Best Musical.

And, now, I’ve seen Weathervane’s version of the musical. I’ve enjoyed the movie and the Broadway version, so I looked forward to the local version with great anticipation. What a letdown. The local production lacks the smooth sophistication needed for a big-time musical.

The story is set in the summer on the French Riviera. Lawrence Jameson (Patrick Dukeman), a sophisticated British con artist, has set about to target wealthy female tourists and bilk them of their money. However, he is threatened by a young American, Freddy Benson (Adam Vigneault), a con artist who has invaded Jameson’s territory.

Jameson knows the territory isn’t large enough for both of them and makes a wager with Benson. Whoever can swindle $50,000 from a female target will stay on and the other must leave.

Their prey arrives — Christine Colgate (Amanda Davis), a young heiress known as the American Soap Queen. The wager takes them into the world of masquerades, double-crosses and schemes that make it impossible for anyone (even the audience) to know what is happening.

Benson has the best songs, the best lines and the funniest bits to play. When Vigneault, as Benson, sings “Great Big Stuff,” he leaves the audience laughing so loud that it’s almost impossible to hear the next line. Vigneault, who moves as if his body were made of rubber, is gifted with a strong, full voice.

Jameson is a more mature gentleman and doesn’t get the pratfalls and the physical comedy that make Vigneault an audience favorite. But, he gets his share of the laughs.

As the story opens, Jameson finds himself unexpectedly engaged to Jolene Oakes (Kyla Williger). Jolene is an heiress from Oklahoma and plans to take Jameson back home with her. Oh, yes, she thinks he is royalty. To get out of this marriage, he tells Jolene he must take his brother with him (royalty can’t be divided). He persuades Benson to play a rude, disabled brother. By the time the brother is introduced to Jolene, she is ready to dump the royalty and fly home to Oklahoma.

But, wait, the soap queen from Cincinnati arrives and she’s cute, perky and sings well, and both men take her to be filthy rich in soap money. They want her money and go to extremes to con her. 

Amanda Davis, as the soap queen Colgate, knows her way around a musical comedy. She makes her first entrance late in the first act, but takes the stage at that point and holds the audience in the palm of her hand until the curtain call.

Davis has the best role in the show. She starts the show as the American Soap Queen. Rumor has spread she is a soap heiress from Cincinnati. But, she won the title and the trip in a soap contest by writing a poem about detergent. She’s poor and will sacrifice her winnings to pay a doctor to make Benson well. She’s in love with him. Or, is she?

It would be unfair to give away the plot secrets.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” has a great, logical surprise ending.

In the Weathervane production, John Ebner is the musical director and played keyboards. The small, four-piece orchestra occasionally covered the singers. Keep in mind, the singers wear microphones. That leads to a major problem with this production. I was seated in the third row and had trouble hearing. Some lyrics were lost to the orchestra and some dialogue was spoken too softly. The sound staff should have rehearsed with the cast a few more times to find an appropriate level for the volume.

Costume designer Jasen Smith once again did an excellent job with costumes. The costumes for the ensemble were especially entertaining.

Most of the problems I’ve listed belong to director and choreographer Jim Weaver. This production needs at least one more week of rehearsals to weed out the most obvious problems. The dances don’t flow, but seem to be danced by people who are still counting steps. The balance of orchestra and singers is a problem that still can be solved.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” has a pleasant script and most of the cast can play their roles, but the show still is awkward and not as satisfactory as it should be.

For ticket information, call 330-836-2626.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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