THEATRE REVIEW “Scoundrels” Will Sneak Into Your Heart

Musical Has Many Departures From Film — Is That Wrong?

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Freddy Benson (D.B. Bonds) and Lawrence Jameson (Tom Hewitt) toast their dirty rotten selves.
Carol Rosegg
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Freddy Benson (D.B. Bonds) is tempted and impressed by some “Real Big Stuff.”
Carol Rosegg

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Boston Opera House

Through Sunday, March 18, 2007

Perhaps it says something about me, but Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has been one of my favorite movies since the age of seven. Starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, this movie about two con-men trying to one up each other in the French Riviera was just about the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Thus when I heard a musical based on it was coming out, I was both thrilled and worried. Since I love the original and I love musicals, it had the potential to be magnificent. Of course, if they messed it up and tarnished the good name of Scoundrels, it would be a bitter disappointment on the order of The Matrix Reloaded. Finally, after years of fear, I bit the bullet and saw the show. My hopes were realized: it was really good.

Now, before we get to the biggest issues, let me summarize one thing for you. This musical was one of the musical-iest shows I’ve ever seen. If you were to make a list of things that musicals are known for (clever lyrics, catchy tunes, random dance numbers, impressively mobile and minimalist sets, etc), Scoundrels has them all. The comparison I really want to make is for you Simpsons fans: remember the one where they go to New York and see a musical called Checking In? Remember how well it fit all the musical stereotypes? This is just like that. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you, but like I’ve said, I like musicals, so I didn’t mind.

This one, though, is easy to like, even if you’ve never seen the original movie. British con-artist Lawrence Jameson has just returned from the bank after convincing yet another rich heiress that he’s a prince, fighting for his country’s freedom, when he comes across lowly American huckster Freddy Benson, who tricks girls into buying him meals and giving him money. Jameson, sensing that the pond isn’t big enough for two fish (even if one’s just a guppy), does what he can to get rid of Benson, and instantly a rivalry is born. This isn’t one of those boring, Ivy League rivalries, though; this is more like the MIT-West Point rivalry, where anything can happen and it’s all tons of fun. Amidst truces, double crosses, and tons of dancing (featuring guns and wheelchairs), their love-hate relationship will entwine with the fate of Christine Colgate, the American Soap Queen. Does that sound crazy? That’s just the first act!

But, not only is the story well-preserved (except for the few random little things that weren’t) and fun to watch, the actors themselves do a great job too. Tom Hewitt as Jameson was able to portray the quiet dignity and rollicking fun that a con-artist of his years should, and D.B. Bonds as Benson was everything you’d expect a crass, boorish, slovenly (but love-able) guy to be. Plus, of course, they could sing like nobody’s business. Laura Marie Duncan as Colgate, though, was particularly impressive, both in music and out of it; her emotional range was incredible, singing a wispy, emotional ballad one moment, and an energetic, power-tango the next.

There are really only two negative things about this show, and neither is major enough to keep you away. First is the surprising amount of vulgarity that I wasn’t expecting; not only was there an F-bomb dropped, but there was more sex than a college comedy. So while it’s a great show to go to with your friends, it is definitely not one to go to with the family, unless you happen to do an act together called “the aristocrats.” The second negative has to do with the pacing, as the entire first act really just serves as a prelude to the second act. Of course, the movie was the same way, but for some reason in the show it just seems to take a long time.

So whether it’s big laughs, great songs, or a blast from the past you’re after, this is a show that delivers on all fronts. As the closing number (called, cutely, “Dirty Little Number”) says, “It was a ball, it was a blast, and it’s a shame it couldn’t last.”