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Con men's zany antics, high-energy action keep "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" moving

Show Palace Dinner Theatre patrons accustomed to the linear storylines in Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe may be a tad discombobulated by the David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's musical comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, playing matinees and evenings through April 18.

The script has as many twists and turns as San Francisco's famed Lombard Street.

In it, two confidence men in a small French beachside resort trick bored, wealthy women out of a relatively painless portion of their money. And like any effective con, it's also convoluted and tricky, so there's no dozing off during this nearly three-hour show.

Never fear; there are enough big laughs and high-energy action to keep you wide awake, thanks to excellent performances by Matthew McGee, as the suave con man Lawrence Jameson; Michael Ursua, as the crass con man Freddy Benson; Casey Shea, as the loud-mouthed Oklahoma cowgirl Jolene; Erin Romero, as the ditzy mark-waiting-to-be-fleeced Muriel Eubanks; and Thomas Mothershed, as the look-the-other-way police Chief Andre Thibault.

The story starts when the suave, but slightly bored ladies' man Lawrence meets the crude and crass penny-ante con man Freddy aboard a train bound for Lawrence's home base, Beaumont sur Mer. Lawrence has been warned by his pal Andre that a famous con artist called the Jackal is going to be in the area, and Lawrence, seeing Freddy smoothly trick a woman out of $20, pegs him as that infamous criminal.

To amuse himself (and to keep an eye on his rival), Lawrence invites Freddy home for some coaching. Freddy immediately decides he wants to go for the big time and live in luxury like Lawrence.

At first, Lawrence uses Freddy as a partner, but when the situation seems to be getting competitive, Lawrence proposes a bet: The first man able to con a woman out of $50,000 will be allowed to stay in town and the loser has to leave.

Their mark is a the giddy Christine Colgate (Missy Dowse), dubbed "The Soap Queen of America."

(Warning: Just as you think the show has ended and everything is settled, keep your seats; lots more is on the way.)

Fans of the 1988 movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels may have a preconceived idea of the Lawrence and Freddy personas.

I'd advise to fuhgeddabouddit.

McGee and Ursua put their own spins on those characters, giving a new and pleasing feel to the musical.

McGee, who has established himself as a star in the Tampa Bay area, plays Lawrence for broad laughs, delightfully mugging it up and rolling his eyes, but keeping just enough dignity to establish Lawrence as the cool one.

Ursua, an accomplished actor, singer, pianist and music director, continues to surprise, showing an ability for uninhibited physical humor.

McGee and Ursua make a great team, playing off each other as comfortably as longtime cohorts.

Not just comedy, either. Some of their best moments are when they show us the good sides of Lawrence and Freddy.

As director, McGee shows inspired casting choices, pairing the long-legged Ms. Romero with the vertically challenged Mothershed and making them seem like the perfect couple.

The bouncy Ms. Dowse is a cute Christine, though her garbled articulation and wide-mouthed delivery, especially in her introductory number Here I Am, left many in the audience wondering just who she was. Perhaps some microphone adjustments and a couple of elocution prompts could clear up that.

As always, Tom Hansen's scenic backdrops, sets and lighting are spot on. Music director Ursua's recorded music tracks ring with authenticity.

Chris and Shanna Sell's choreography challenges the dozen dancers, adding class and sass to key scenes and set changes. And Angela' D. Hoerner's costumes bring it all together.

Be aware that Act 1 is the set-up and Act 2 is the payoff, and, in the end, it all makes a sensible package. So enjoy the zany antics in the first hour, knowing that it all comes together in the end.

Fast facts

If you go

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, matinees and evenings through April 18 at Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Dinner and show, $46; show only, $34.95, plus tax and tip; ages 12 and younger, $28.45 and $23.45. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.

Con men's zany antics, high-energy action keep "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" moving 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 1:30pm]
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