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Theatre Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

By Peter Mavrik in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 1, 2007 7:00PM

Back in 1988 there were some pretty cool films on the screen. Beetlejuice, Cocktail, Big, Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, Coming To America, Dangerous Liasons, and the list goes on and on. Near the top of our favorites that year were Steve Martin and Michael Caine in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

2007_08_dirtyrotten.jpg In case you haven't seen the endless cable reruns, the plot is simple. Two con artists find themselves in the same city in the French Riviera. But there isn't room for them both, so they setup a little bet. Whoever can wrangle $50,000 out of the target, a wealthy woman, gets to stay. The other has to leave.

The 1988 movie was actually a remake of Bedtime Story, a comedy from 1964 with Shirley "Momma Partridge" Jones and Marlon "The Godfather" Brando. But this isn't a movie review. So enough movie talk.

In the theatre world, where everything old is new again, David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane paired up to create a musical version of the 1988 film. It opened to a sensational start in 2004. The show was nominated for 11 Tony and 11 Drama Desk awards in 2005. The national tour, still running, is making a short two week stay here in Chicago here at the Auditorium Theatre.

To be honest, we were a little skeptical that a musical version of the film could hold up to the movie. But from lights-up right through to the very end, we were hooked. And crooked. And swindled.

The life of a con artist, at least as portrayed by Hollyweird, tends to be one of high danger and drama. The exact opposite happens on stage in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. From the moment you meet Lawrence Jameson, the suave and debonair trickster extraordinaire, you know the show is going to be fun. Tom Hewitt plays the part with class, camp, a handful of accents, and a wardrobe that we'll be shopping for after our next paycheck.

His nemesis-slash-assistant, Freddy Benson (played by D.B. Bonds), handles the majority of the physical comedy in the show, playing not only himself, but the slightly-inbred locked-in-the-cellar little brother named Ruprecht who tends to hump just about anything that moves, as well as the wheelchair bound ex-championship dancer and soldier who has a mortal fear of dancing and cannot move his legs. Even the most serious moments that showcase Bonds' powerhouse voice are comic. The guy is just plain funny.

We're suckers for sets that move. The rotating platform on stage did the trick, helping to make the dance numbers and set changes pretty stellar. Plus, many of the characters break the fourth wall and comment on the moving set pieces as they fly by. And a few of them even talk directly to the conductor in the pit or perform right in the house. Nothing super new there, but the show doesn't ever take itself too seriously. It is, after all, a comedy.

We're pretty confident that if you liked the movie (and have that guilty-pleasure taste for musicals) you'll laugh as hard as we did at the show and enjoy the spectacular dancing and vocal performances. But if you're among the rare few that haven't seen the film and don't know the major plot twists (which, as you'll notice, we did NOT reveal) then get your tickets today and prepare for the big finale. It's worth it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is playing now at the Auditorium Theater. Tickets are on sale, starting at $18, through Ticketmaster or at the box office. Performances run now through August 12, 2007.

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