1. Stage

Review: Hermine delays, but fails to dampen, Richey Suncoast Theatre opener

Hurricane Hermine may have blown opening weekend at Richey Suncoast Theatre down the road a week, but it didn't dampen the performances or the enthusiasm of the cast and crew of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical comedy about charming con men and the ladies they charm, playing weekends through Sept. 25.

As performed by the amazing cast at RST in New Port Richey, it's 2 1/2 hours of laughs, surprises, singing, dancing and Mark Anthony Jelks' sweet little orchestra that keeps everything moving.

Director Emily Nettin's stellar lineup was in perfect form for the belated "family and friends" final dress rehearsal on Sunday that, for the most part, looked and sounded as sharp as it would at the end of a three-week run. This show requires six top-notch singer-actors, as well as a sizable ensemble to do multiple roles, and this show attracted the best of the bay to do them.

That's what happens when a theater chooses shows that actors want to be in, and RST has scheduled a bunch of them over the past couple of seasons — Spamalot, Young Frankenstein, The Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown — that have helped the theater build a full bench of outstanding performers to audition, including professionals and several who could be if they so choose.

Almost stealing the show is Patrick Moran as Freddy Benson, the low-level gigolo who yearns for Great Big Stuff like his new friend and mentor, the suave and successful Lawrence Jameson, played with smooth irony by the always wonderful Michael McGuigan. Both these roles require perfect timing, where pauses can mean everything, and they both have those down pat.

Moran's high-energy physical humor combined with his innocent baby face create a Freddy who can go from winsome to wicked on the turn of a dime. McGuigan's Lawrence is unfailingly charming and resourceful, always one step ahead of everyone else … until he isn't.

David Bethards is marvelous as Andre Thibault, Lawrence's faithful sidekick with a captivating French accent, which, by the way, he maintains throughout the show. Watch for Bethards's dance moves; for someone so, um, substantially built, he is as light and graceful as a swan.

The men are wonderfully matched by three of the bay area's top females. The gorgeous Victoria Stinnett makes Muriel Eubanks, a wealthy, but naive do-gooder, irresistible, even as she maddeningly falls for Lawrence's transparently phony royalty routine. After all, What Was a Woman to Do? she melodramatically sings as she sheds her jewels to save Lawrence's hypothetical kingdom.

Suzanne Meck nails the rowdy Jolene Oakes, a big-haired oil heiress from Oklahoma who is determined to marry the marriage-averse Lawrence. Meck's Oklahoma twang, skin-tight jeans, well-worn cowboy boots and fringed jacket (tip of the hat to costume designer Katherine Rivera) bring the wide-open spaces right into Lawrence's elegant chateau (hat tip to set designer Dan McConaghy and crew).

The slender, beautiful Janine Paradiso makes a perfect Christine Colgate, "The American Soap Queen" who arrives on the scene just as Lawrence and Freddy have reached an impasse over who should have exclusive swindling rights of Beaumont de Sur women. So the two make a bet: The first one to con the soap heiress out of $50,000 wins — and the other must leave town.

That's when the real twists and turns start. Listen carefully; writers David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane wrote some clever, funny lines and astute cultural references (note Freddy's favorite comic book, too) that are worth hearing and trying to remember.

A special shout-out to the 10-member ensemble, which sings and dances its way through playing house staff, casino patrons, sailors and a chorus line, with quick-changes in costume and attitude suitable for each role. Watch especially for RST veteran Mark Lewis as Gerard and newcomer Adam Sieber as the Coupier, who seem to be everywhere at once. And kudos to Brendan Boniol, who stepped in at the last minute to do a fine job operating the sound board when the original operator was suddenly taken ill.

Word to the wise: Don't leave when the you think the musical has ended; there are one, two or three more twists coming, and you don't want to miss them.