Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting down and Dirty at the North Shore

After their great performances, these "Scoundrels" deserve a rest.
"What you lack in grace you more than make up for in vulgarity," the lead of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels quips at one point to his sidekick, and it's the kind of back-handed compliment that pretty much sums up the whole show.  Spawned in the shadow of The ProducersScoundrels starts out broad and bawdy - and then just gets broader and bawdier, its shenanigans always laced with smart-alecky, Mad-Magazine-style wit.  But this seems to be (again, as the show itself would have it) merely a case of "giving 'em what they want": Scoundrels survived a slew of lukewarm reviews on Broadway, went on to win a Tony for one of its stars, and seems to have been touring somewhere ever since.

And now it's at Beverly's North Shore Music Theatre, in a jazzy, snazzy production that should prove a hit, because it definitely gives the crowd what it wants - even though I began to tune out well before the last whoopee-cushion gag (although I'm speaking metaphorically; the whoopee cushion, oddly enough, never makes its appearance).  I'm hardly immune to raunchy humor - but I'm not a fan of repetition; and while Scoundrels seems to just want you to let out a great big horselaugh (which you're happy to do), it then wants you to do it again, and again, and again.  Indeed, its tone and attack never vary for two and half hours (the physical schtick in the second half particularly begins to drag).

But if I don't have the stamina of a horse, a lot of people do, and they were clearly enjoying the hell out of this show the night I saw it.  And to be honest, in many ways Scoundrels, which some have called "Son of The Producers" is actually quite a bit better than The Producers.  David Yazbeck's score and lyrics are definitely stronger: the finale's hook is actually memorable, as is "Great Big Stuff," which cleverly parodies its own stupidity - plus there's a hilarious ballad near the end that ruthlessly savages Broadway's sappy little broken heart.  And every now and then, hidden in its adolescent-suburban vision of sophistication (and its knowing acknowledgment of its own bad taste) there's a nugget of genuine, if crude, wit.  After all, listening to your kid brother's dirty jokes can be pretty funny.

Jennifer Cody and Brent Barrett face off in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
And Yazbeck and book writer Jeffrey Lane couldn't ask for a stronger cast than the one at the North Shore to put over their material, whatever its virtues.  The sets are again pretty minimal, and the dancing still hasn't reached the "old" North Shore's athletic standard - but the stars are of exceptionally high wattage, as they're mostly folks who know their way around Broadway, or have actually toured with this show before.  Lead Brent Barrett is perhaps more distant than debonair as Lawrence Jameson, the smooth "scoundrel" who romances women away from their jewelry in a Riviera resort.  But he's got a strong voice, chiseled looks, and a skillful versatility that covers all the many bases he's got to run, as the show requires that he channel Harvey Korman one minute, then Cary Grant the next.  This smooth swindler still can't prevent, however, the hyperactive D.B. Bonds from stealing almost every scene from him as his less "classy" sidekick, Freddy.

Or from being upstaged by a bevy of talented women, either.  As the socialite who's even tackier than her seducers, Jennifer Cody (above) romped off with the whole production, and Brynn O'Malley proved a bright blonde firecracker (a kind of Kristin-Chenoweth-in-waiting) as the gal who just may be beating the big boys at their own game.  Even on the sidelines there was great work, from John Scherer and Lynne Wintersteller as a corrupt police captain and a sweetly clueless society dame who still carries the torch for her swindler.  Director Mark Martino punched everything up, and kept all the "great big stuff" moving with appropriate zip.  Because, I know, I know, sometimes you just have to give people what they want.

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