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REVIEW: ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ at the South Park Theatre

By MARIA SCIULL

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is your onstage summer cocktail, an unabashedly silly musical by Jeffrey Lane (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics).

Against a rum-punch-hued background of terraces and hotel suites set on the French Riviera, a couple of con men — one suave, one crass — make a bet to see if they can bilk a certain rich young American woman out of a fortune. 

The Broadway stage version, a 2005 showcase for John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz, was based on the 1988 Michael Caine/Steve Martin film based on a 1964 movie called Bedtime Story.

Following all this? Good. The plot is delightfully twisty, and South Park Theatre‘s version, which opened June 27 and runs through July 13, stars Jeff Boles as the debonair ladies’ man Lawrence. He can charm the diamonds off a lady’s wrist with his fantastical stories about being an exiled prince who needs funds (cash preferred, thank you) to help some sort of revolutionary cause back home.

Boles is unflappable as a man facing a career — and dare we say it? Mid-life — crisis. His world is about to be upended by a boyishly arrogant newcomer.

Freddy (Thomas McQuillan, up for all sorts of physical comedy) also has a gift for grift, but he’s a rank amateur compared to Lawrence. Yet they find themselves competing to fleece Christine (Sarah Nadler), Cincinnati’s naive “soap queen.” Directed by Ponny Conomos JohnDirty Rotten Scoundrels has fun playing off any number of groan-inducing bouts of wordplay. 

Thomas McQuillan (Freddy), Sarah Nadler (Christine), Jeff Boles (Lawrence)

To wit — in discussing the heiress to an Oklahoma oil fortune (a delightfully daft Aimee Lambing):

“Crude?”

“She is a little pushy.”

Lawrence has the local chief of police (a dry Frenchman played by Ross Kobelak) in his back pocket as he carries out wooing among a bevy of wealthy, bored ladies. There’s a nice little subplot involving one of them, Muriel (Kauleen Cloutier), who finds romance late in life.

Kauleen Cloutier (Muriel) & Ross Kobelak (Andre)

“Let me have love unending, let me look good in shorts,” she prays in a reprise of “What Was a Woman to Do.” We can all relate.

Choreographer Krista Strosnider does a fine job with the cast of 13 waltzing in fairly tight quarters. A three-piece band (Kirk Howe, Rick Lang, and Paul Baronak) even produces some French accordion music. Thespina Christulides is the Music Director, working with the challenge of characters who sing with various broad accents.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has any number of brassy centerpiece numbers, including “Here I Am,” “Oklahoma” and “All About Ruprecht.”  

But “Great Big Stuff,” Freddy’s declaration of everything a materialistic jerk might covet, is one of the evening’s highlights. 

I thought I had a real gift

That penny-ante grift

But Freddy’s gettin’ ready now

To give his life a lift

I’m tired of bein’ a chump!

I wanna be like Trump

Two hundred pounds of caviar in one gigantic lump

Gimme GREAT BIG STUFF!

The show’s pop references might seem a bit dated—Mutual of Omaha, Bob Guccione, Al Roker, Lorenzo Lamas, and P. Diddy (ugh). And one character played for laughs mimes a special needs man. It’s a fine line in the arts, recognizing and preserving what was perfectly acceptable 20 years ago versus today’s more sensitive cultural approach. There’s no animus here, however, as the South Park Theatre’s cast provides a breezy escape from the summer heat.

TICKETS AND DETAILS

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the South Park Theatre through July 13, 2024. For tickets, southparktheatre.com or 412-831-8552.