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Show Palace Dinner Theatre will present 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'

The suspense is over.

The Show Palace Dinner Theatre has announced the "mystery show" that will run Feb. 26 to April 18, and it's a doozy: the 2005 Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The theater couldn't announce the name of the show until now because performance rights weren't released until just a few days ago. Once the contracts were signed, an elated Show Palace co-owner Nick Sessa couldn't wait to start spreadin' the news.

DRS is based on the delightful 1988 movie of the same name that starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. When the musical version played the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in late 2006, Times reviewer John Fleming called it "one of the fresher musicals to come down the pike in recent years."

The music and lyrics are by David Yazbek, the same fellow who did The Full Monty, and, once again, he's done it up right.

Like Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels started out as a non-musical movie and became a musical for the stage. And, as with Monty, the music only makes it better. When it's time to really punch up a point, composer Yazbek comes up with a song that does the trick.

The story is about two gigolos — the suave, sophisticated Lawrence Jameson and the seedy hick Freddy Benson — operating in the same little town on the French Riviera. Jameson cons spoiled rich women out of their jewels and money, while the crass Benson goes for the quick-and-easy low-hanging fruit.

Once Benson gets a look at Jameson's lifestyle, though, he decides he wants to be rich and cons Jameson into going into cahoots. When that doesn't work out, Jameson cons Benson into a contest to see who gets to stay in town and who has to leave. Their target is a new arrival in town, Christine Colgate, rumored to be a rich heiress. Whoever cons her first wins the game.

I think one big reason the stage show that came to Tampa worked so well was that the actor playing Freddy seemed to channel Steve Martin, right down to doing a semi-King Tut shtick. He had the same frantic body language, sort of nasal twang and spot-on timing. The Show Palace has a long list of people who can do the sophisticated Jameson and the pretty, young Christine. The challenge for artistic director Matthew McGee will be to find the right Freddy, though it doesn't necessarily have to be a Martin clone.

McGee was able to come up with the perfect performers to play the roles created by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick for Broadway's The Producers, namely Michael L. Walters and Michael Ursua. He's done it for Singin' in the Rain, Cabaret and even Sugar Babies, all of which appeared to have "irreplaceable" Broadway or Hollywood stars.

Broadway has had a rash of movies made into musicals lately (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Footloose, Saturday Night Fever). I saw all three and was less than thrilled. Chitty Chitty has a very slight story and is strictly for kids. And without Kevin Bacon in Footloose and John Travolta in Fever, why bother?

Even so, both musicals had respectable runs on Broadway (Fever, 501 shows; Footloose, 709), though I suspect it was more because of the music than the shows themselves.

Monty and Scoundrels are something else altogether — really good musicals with complex, appealing stories.

Interestingly, rumors were floating around that the February-April slot might be filled by the musical blockbuster Hairspray, (one of my all time favorite shows), but getting the performance rights to that show turned out to be impossible.

Hairspray would be a natural. After all, Hudson's own Sara DelBeato was a finalist to replace the lead as Tracy Turnblad on Broadway only a couple of years ago and would be a shoo-in for the role here.

I talked with McGee on Thursday (he was on location shooting a television commercial, soon to be seen locally), and he said that Hairspray is still high on the Show Palace's wish list and will be booked as soon as it becomes available.

• • •

Writer-director Devlin dies at the age of 92

Stage West Community Playhouse lost another bright star on Tuesday, when longtime writer-director Bill Devlin died of congestive heart failure at the age of 92.

Devlin directed four of his own creations at the theater, including Marathon Widow in 1997 and Mrs. Giorgio's Day Off in 2004; directed five dramas, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; but he won a HAMI Award for his direction of the comedy Move Over, Mrs. Markham in 1996.

Devlin's youthful ambition was to be an actor, and he actually studied under the legendary actor/director/instructor Lee Strasberg at the American Theatre Wing in New York City. World War II changed those plans; facing the draft, he joined the Army Air Force. He came out disabled and on crutches and went into writing instead. He wrote for radio, television and the stage.

"He loved writing plays," Stage West actor-director Betsy Glasson wrote to Devlin's friends shortly after his death. "And his latest, finished late last year, has been given to the play reading committee chairman for consideration. It was amazing that at age 92, he was still creating!"

But then, Bill Devlin was one amazing man all the way around.

Show Palace Dinner Theatre will present 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' 03/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 27, 2009 7:40pm]
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