Forge Theatre’s ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ Is One Bawdy Blast

By J.S. Alleva

Every so often a show comes along that reaches out and pulls its audience, unexpectedly, into a bubble of mirth.  Forge Theatre’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is this type of show:  “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” meets “Comedy Central.”  While our real world is battered by weather and politics, this show is a much-needed balm on our funny bones, with some of the most hysterically naughty lyrics ever written. The healing power of laugh-out-loud comedy could not have come at a better time.  Running now through October 1, this is one to be seen as soon as possible, and then to be seen again.

First produced in 2004, and based on the 1988 film by the same name, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (the musical) opens in an elegant, exclusive hotel casino on the French Riviera, with bejeweled well-to-do couples dancing with raised brows. Enter Lawrence Jameson, a handsome, suave “Prince” of a con man who charms lonely, wealthy women into their beds and out of their Cartier jewels.  When a brash, young grifter named Freddy Benson enters the scene, looking for a free meal and a quick buck, Jamison’s silky-smooth, solo operation is turned upside down. The two disparate characters begin parring to see who will be top man at bottom-dwelling—with one final challenge:  whoever is first to swindle the newly-arrived heiress, Christine Colgate, out of $50,000 is permitted to stay, and the loser must leave town. The crazy antics that follow leave the audience in stitches as the entire cast goes on a hilarious, bawdy ride that delights… and surprises.

Directed by Wendy Mirto, assistant-directed by Clem Mirto, and produced by Amy Borla, the show’s ensemble cast creates a comedic gale-force wind that leaves you breathless with laughter.

Mark Dixon as con man Lawrence Jameson is absolute perfection. A natural with the debonair charm and refined elegance, Dixon deftly weaves through the personas and accents required for his thieving plans. He seduces in “Give Them What They Want,” delights in “Rüffhousin’ Mit Shüffhausen” and touches the heart in “Love Sneaks In.”  Dave Cura (Freddy Benson) brings down the house entirely in “Great Big Stuff” and “All About Ruprecht,” two of the most outlandish showstoppers. Cura’s bombastic humor elicits bursts of laughter from the audience.  Dixon and Cura combined are a true dynamic duo. Add Jameson’s accomplice, Inspector Andre Thibault, played with aplomb by Lew Osterhoudt in “Chimp in a Suit,”and you’ve got a powerful theatrical triad.

One of Jameson’s successful conquests is Muriel Eubanks, deftly played by Denise Webb, whose velvety voice soars in “What Was a Woman to Do.” Webb is joined by Osterhoudt in the sweet “Like Zis/Like Zat,” and their characters share some of the funniest and most surprising moments.

Elizabeth Hennessey gives a knock-out performance as Jolene, another of Jameson’s targets.  In the bodacious “Oklahoma” she upsets the apple cart of Jameson’s longterm plans… and sings with wide-eyed innocence some of the most jaw-dropping lyrics ever heard by these ears!

Kate Nice shines as the cute-as-a-button, accident-prone spitfire Christine Colgate, heiress to a soap fortune, and the center of the final contest. She is cheerfully oblivious to the two men stumbling over each other to win her heart and wallet.  With a million-watt smile and serious musical pipes, Nice commands the stage in “Here I Am” and shows true heart in “Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True.” She rocks the house later with Dave Cura (who channels Bon Jovi) in “Love is my Legs”.

Rounding out this excellent ensemble cast are Julie May, Peter Phillips, Clem Mirto (who steals a scene as a gleefully maniacal sailor), Doug Pratt, Katie Clements, Kelly Murray, Olga Skvortsov and Sam Pettine. The cast members play multiple roles to great effect, and somehow maintain dead-pan faces throughout a hysterical show.

Clem Mirto wears many hats for this production, including Set/Lighting/Sound Design, and his expertise shows. The well-built stage creates the illusion of a luxury resort with warm terracotta accents and white railings, overlooking an azure coastline.  Scenic art by Matt Nice and Julie May brings highly-effective, loosely-painted architectural rendering to the space, with warmly-shadowed railings and painted tile floor. Lighting operated by Josh Gould and Marnie Hertzfeld creates the moods. Costumes by Debbie Young are brilliantly-conceived and constructed, from elegant gowns, well-tailored suits, and hoedown duds, to staff attire, color-coordinated outfits and well-appointed cruise wear, each perfectly suited to their scenes.  Choreography by stage veteran Gail Oldfield is clean, clever and understated, allowing the characters’ personalities and intentions to shine through.  Stage management by Linda Blystone is well-timed and professional, requiring in some cases a significant amount of furniture movement, all done seamlessly.

Music Director Denise Wisneski leads a 9-piece orchestra, capturing the lively tones and varied moods of the score, from regal to raunchy to reminiscent. Orchestra members include Calder Adkins, John Magolan, Ryan Gerberich, Pat Dewald, Jake Sholly, John Braun, Leah Givler, Gus Specter, and Denise Wisneski.  Since the performers are unmiked, a few spoken lines are obscured at the show’s start by an upswell in the Overture, but moving forward, the music is balanced, supportive and truly enjoyable throughout.

While it was disappointing that the show’s printed program did not include the Acts and Songs, the titles are available on the internet, so audience members can look up their favorites and revisit them. In a show this funny, there will be many to remember.

Seeing an ensemble perform with seamless comedic timing is a joy, and this show bubbles over with it. There are a few occasions of profanity and some surprisingly politically-incorrect lyrics, yet these do not detract from the hilarity when performed by a fully-committed cast that brings depth to stereotype while playing a host of over-the-top characters. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is highly recommended for adult audiences who could use an evening of wit, charm, and gut-busting laughter. And couldn’t we all?

Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek (who really outdid himself with this show)

Remaining dates are: Sept 15, 16, 22, 23, 24*, 29, 30, Oct 1*.
*Matinees on 24th and 1st @ 2:00.  All other performances at 8 pm.

The play is performed in two Acts, with a 15-minute intermission. Warning: some profanity, explicit language, and non-PC jokes.  There are two bathrooms, one in lobby and one downstairs.  Refreshments are available during the intermission.

For more info on this run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, see https://forgetheatre.org/current-show/, or contact:

Forge Theatre
241 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460
610-935-1920
https://forgetheatre.org