Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Yes, it was a little dirty but there is certainly nothing rotten about the wonderfully wacky production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on stage at the Vancouver Playhouse through December 27th.

Based on the 1998 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, this musical stage adaptation follows the movie storyline quite closely.  Lawrence Jameson (Andrew Wheeler) is a big time con artist and is one of the best, easily able to extract money and a not a little bling from rich, lonely socialites by “giving them what they want”.  But Lawrence’s world is turned upside down with the arrival of another flim-flam man, Freddy Benson (Josh Epstein), who up to now was easily satisfied with swindling someone out of a mere twenty bucks at a time.  With the spectre of being revealed for who he really is by Freddy, Lawrence takes the younger man under his wings for one last big con where the winner takes all.

Wheeler and Epstein are magnificent counterpoints to each other here; Wheeler the sauve, sophisticated conman with an elaborate lifestyle funded by his rich conquests and Epstein as the crass and unsophisticated Benny looking for just enough to get by until his next mark comes along.  Both actors embody their characters with ease, but it really is Epstein’s show as he goes for the gusto here with the audience hooting with laughter at his over-the-top antics channelling a sort of Jim Carrey-Adam Sandler hybrid of wild rubbery movements and juvenile comedic sensibility.  The chemistry between these two men is noticeable from the get-go but was very much in evidence in the over-the-top-even-more-than-usual-for-this-show number “All About Ruprecht” and one couldn’t help but think of duos like Conway and Korman or any of Mel Brooks’ pairings.

But therein lays the one problem (or virtue, from my perspective) of this show: it is most successful when it is at its loopiest and wackiest. Fortunately though, quicker than you can say “Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen”, any real seriousness is short-lived.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Andrew Wheeler and Josh Epstein star in the Vancouver Playhouse production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

As the focus of the big con, Elena Juactco is likeable enough as the ditzy Christine Colgate but not surprisingly, given her top six Canadian Idol placing in 2004, she really shines when she sings.  Gabrielle Jones and David Marr are tremendously funny as Gabrielle, one of Lawrence’s early conquests and Andre, Lawrence’s right-hand man.  In fact, Jones’ “What Was a Woman to Do” was particularly memorable in a show with few really memorable songs.

The ensemble here is top notch and features them in one of the funniest scene changes that I have ever seen.  Special kudos must go to Kiara Leigh for her high-energy and deliciously low-brow turn as Jolene in “Oklahoma”.

Last year Director Max Reimer and his team gave us the hilarious The Drowsy Chaperone.  This year it is the loopy and wacky Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  Christmas 2009 isn’t even over and I’m already looking forward to finding out what the Playhouse has for me under the tree next year!

I’m getting my letter to Santa Max early.  Anyone else up for The Toxic Avenger?

4 1/2 Stars of 5Dirty Rotten Soundrels
Vancouver Playhouse Theatre
21 November – 27 December 2009

Tickets are $30 – $69 and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 604-873-3311, online at http://www.vancouverplayhouse.com or in person at 127 East 2nd Avenue.

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