Plaza Theatre Company
Director – Luke Hunt
Music Director – Doug Henry
Choreographer – Rachel Hunt
Stage Management – Monica Glenn
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Light Design – G. Aaron Siler
Set Design – JaceSon P. Barrus
Property Design – Tammie Phillips
Scenic Painting – Julie Lee
Lawrence Jameson – G. Aaron Siler
Freddy Benson – Clyde Berry
Christine Colgate – Camille Shaw*, Kelly Nickell
Andre Thibault – Michael D. Durrington
Muriel Eubanks – Milette Siler
Jolene – Stacey Greenawalt King
Lenore/Mother Superior – Kimberly Mickel
Sophia – Suzi Hafford
Renee – Sara Blair
Gerard – Drew Sifford
Croupier/Nikos – Solomon Abah
Waiter/Hotel Manager – Jamie Long
Conductor – Levi King
Bellboy/Porter – Justin Diyer
Usherette – Monica Glenn
Dancers/ Additional Ensemble– David Goza, Katherine Balaban, Drew Sifford, Suzie Hanford, Justin Diyer, Sara Blair, Kelly Nickell, Camille Shaw
* The part of Christine Colgate is double cast. The reviewer saw the night that Camille Shaw was playing.
Reviewed Performance 5/23/2013
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is adapted from the 1988 film comedy of the same name with Steve Martin and Michael Caine. It was turned into a Broadway musical in 2005. Scoundrels the musical is a hybrid - part screwball comedy, part fish out of water and part comedy of manners involving two con artists competing for territory rights to the French Riviera. Jeffrey Lane adapted the film quite faithfully with musical score and lyrics by David Yazbeck that offers a throwback and occasional parodies to Gershwin and Cole Porter musicals of the past.
The story is perfectly at home on a stage performed for a live audience even if it’s paper thin in the character development department.
Stories such as this are best served with a strong and precise commitment to the comedy and a heaping dose of energy from all parties involved. I was surprised that all the elements never came together for a fuller experience, given the high level of talent on display.
I was poised and set to enjoy what I hoped to be an embarrassment of riches when I took my seat in Plaza’s intimate black box space. The four surrounding walls were painted to suggest the French Riviera in tasteful, somber colors with a river subtly fading into black. It was just the right amount of ambience with the full credit belonging to scenic painter Julie Lee.
Unfortunately, once the production started I was underwhelmed by the lack of energy and abundant nerves that were coming from the dance crew in the opening number. It was a complicated tango/salsa routing.
The dancers strutted and charged the floor with their partner as if they were walking on egg shells, self-conscious of their every step. The dance ensemble quickly set a contradictory tone to the zany proceedings and it lingered throughout.
Enter Clyde Berry as Freddy Benson, the cocky and brash young con man who’s always looking for the easy score. Mr. Berry handled his part with ease and grace as he inhabited strong control for the demanding physical comedy required of him. Freddy is also a smooth talker and Mr. Berry was consistently effortless conveying the character’s natural charm.
There was one moment where Berry ran off the rails with dissatisfactory results, which may be more attributed to director Luke Hunt. In a tricky scene Freddy poses as a mentally handicapped brother to Lawrence Jameson, the older and wiser con man who is posing as a prince. Freddy’s job in this con is to simply turn up the volume
of obnoxious and inappropriate behavior.
Rather than control the scene with any sort of organized chaos, Mr. Berry was seemingly allowed no formal direction to create any coherent moment of staged craziness. The scene was full of a lot of mugging, wandering, random contortions, and lines of dialogue that were lost in the shuffle. The physical comedy element was less refined than other comic set pieces that Mr. Berry performed so nimbly.
This wasn’t the only confusing moment on stage. The character Christine Colgate made a rather odd entrance in the musical number “Here I Am”. The choreography by Rachel Hunt to the whole number was a confusing, whirling dervish of energy with the dancers and ensemble surrounding Ms. Colgate in a mass mob filled with quick movements that were never in synch. Add to this the quickness of the music tempo, the distortion of the microphone, and the fact that many of the words were in French, the musical number was difficult to understand both visually and audibly.
Christine Colgate is played by Camille Shaw and the actress quickly rebounded from her opening number unscathed. Singing or acting, Ms. Shaw maintained an eloquence of physical grace and strong comedic timing that was every bit equal to Mr. Berry’s Freddy. Without revealing too much plot, Colgate is the American visitor from whom Freddy has his eyes set on taking $50,000. It is important for the two con men to trust Ms. Colgate without question and Ms. Shaw conveyed just the right amount of naïve innocence without ever being overly saccharine.
There is a sweet duet between Mr. Berry and Ms. Shaw, the Cole Porter homage “Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True”. The chemistry between these two performers is essential and apparent.
They are also responsible for the show’s best musical number “Love is My Legs”, a riotous parody of any love ballad you’ve heard. It was pure, unadulterated joy and lunacy. Cinching the deal was how well Mr. Berry infused his performance with an improvisatory spirit that added an inspired logic to the goofiness all its own
G. Aaron Siler as Lawrence Jameson completes the con artist duo. Lawrence offers Freddy tutelage of his more refined methods of conning women out of their own money. Siler was earnest and capable as the straight man to all the quirky antics of the plot and had the gentlemanly behavior down pat. There was a duality to the character that was missing though, a certain joy in his performance that informed the audience his character relished the inappropriate way he made a living. He was too nice in so many scenes that it seemed as though he was preparing for a role in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Mr. Siler may not have mastered the duality of his own character but he certainly mastered his vocal performance in “Love Sneaks In”. Left only to his own devices and a spotlight, Mr. Siler never looked more comfortable and relaxed than he was during this song. The result was impressive.
There were two characters that together created a subplot that was perfunctory at best. Michael D.Durrington as Andre Thibault and Millette Siler as Muriel Eubanks helped fill the obligatory romantic slot that the creators of this show seemed to think were required. Mr. Durrington was perfectly likable and charming throughout, as was Ms. Siler. Their secret trysts were always a bit disappointing, because the characters themselves are so underwritten and did not warrant a separate story away from the two con artists.
When their characters were blended into the fold they shined brightest. In particular, Mr. Durrington sang a lovely number as Andre that underscored Freddy Benson’s makeover, “Chimp in a Suit”. The number could have been a home run but Hunt’s direction asked his audience to split focus between Andre on center stage and Freddy’s makeover that took place in the far corner. Durrington sang credibly, but it was difficult to fully appreciate due to all antics that were happening in the corner. It looked like they were having fun, but the director deprived the audience of enjoying either scene fully by not melding them together, especially when it is clear from the lyrics that Andre was such a vital component to Freddy’s transformation.
Stacey Greenawalt King played Jolene, an Oklahoma native, a victim to one of Lawrence’s cons. She nailed every scene she was in and her one big, rousing number had me wanting more. I missed her character very much in the second act.
In a very small role, Jamie Long stuck out in a positive way. He played a hotel desk manager. His genial presence made me smile.
I rarely critique the lighting design of a show. If the lighting isn’t mentioned in one of my reviews then quite often it means that the designer did something right. In this case, the lighting scheme proved a major distraction to many of the scenes throughout the course of the musical’s entire running time. The lighting plot left so many sporadic shadows across the stage that there was a huge gap in the clarity of the actors’ faces and the overall stage pictures.
Overall, it consistently lessened the vibrancy and dampened the energy level to many scenes, including the more distinguished, choreographed ensemble numbers.
“Breathing is important, but lighting is everything”. This line became the understatement of the evening and the production’s most ironic, because the line was uttered by actor G. Aaron Siler who was also the show’s lighting designer. In past productions, Mr. Siler has been no slouch in the lighting department. The ambition he brought forth to Plaza’s fun-filled production of Treasure Island was well-executed and exciting. His design sold me on the high caliber of artistry that one can expect at Plaza Theatre. This latest project did not come close to matching that effort.
Costume designer Tina Barrus outfitted the characters in simple evening gowns and tuxedos. There were flashes of color throughout, specifically in wardrobe selections for Jolene and Christine Colgate.
It is difficult to comment if this design work was successful, because the dim lighting also muted the silhouette and color palette of the costumes.
The lighting was not the only design element that wasn’t up to par with past Plaza productions. Overall, I was quite pleased with the minimalist set design by Jaceson P. Barrus. The change of scenery and decorum was always effective, with just the right selection of a furniture piece. My issue came from the acting corner that stood in as a bar and hotel lobby. Every time a scene took place in this corner my eyes would wander to the unfinished masking and trim of the door frame.
Special props to the property designer, Tammie Phillips, who inserted one of the show’s best sight gags by having Freddy Benson drink Deja Blue bottled water.
Plaza Theatre Company’s musical comedy production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was decidedly uneven; therefore, I can’t recommend it. It was not an inherently bad production, but to recommend it would be to imply that the production was complete. This production was not complete; however, if you want evidence of what the overall quality of this production could have been, then look no further than the musical number “Great Big Stuff”.
“Stuff” could have been the game changer for this entire production. All the elements came together for a single pulsating, showstopper. Rachel Hunt’s choreography and her dance crew were at their best in this scene, especially Drew Sifford. Mr. Berry as Freddy was criminally smooth with his suave control over his vocal styling. The lighting and sound mixing enhanced the energy effectively. This was the singular scene where the vision for all elements had been fully realized and therein lays my frustration of the evident potential that was lost.
DIRTY, ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main Street, Cleburne, TX 76033
Runs through June 22nd
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30pm, and Saturday matinees at 3:00pm.
Tixs are $15.00, $14.00 for students (HS/College) & seniors, $13.00 for children (12 under) and groups.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.plaza-theatre.com or by calling the box office at 1-817-202-0600.