Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Luke's Reviews: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

As the days of March wanes, so does the spring musical theater season.  There still are some fantastic productions coming up (may I suggest CFT's production of "Seussical: The Musical" and Compass Fine Arts production of "You Can't Take It With You"?), but for the most part the season is over.  However, I can think of no better way to close out this wonderful season than seeing Pebblebrook's "little" show this year.  Every year, Pebblebrook High school does a large scale production at the Cobb Civic center filled with big dance numbers and flashy costumes (where the the dancing is the focus, then the singing, and then the acting), and then tones it down a level with a smaller production at the Earl Strand which usually have simpler sets and  and are more likely to be period pieces (where generally the acting is the focus, then the singing, and then the dancing).  Some of Pebblebrook's best performances have come from it's "Strand" shows, and this was no different.  I was thrilled when I heard they were doing this show and even more thrilled walking out of the theater.  So without further ado, my glowing review of Pebblebrook High school's production of:
The Show:
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels caught my eye because of it's spectacular cast.  It stared huge names such as Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Catch Me If You Can, etc.), Sherie Rene Scott (The Little Mermaid, Aida, etc.), John Lithgow (who mostly does TV and movies such as Footloose, & Third Rock from the Sun), and Joanna Gleason (Into the Woods).  With a cast like that I knew the soundtrack was worth listening to, and I was right.  Of course the soundtrack really doesn't do the show justice, but it has some wonderful voices and some fantastic comedic moments.  It's based of a movie (staring comic geniuses Micheal Caine and Steve Martin) of the same name.  It's about a young con artist who is taken under the wing of a more refined and successful man of the same trade........then competition, deceit, mayhem, and hilarity ensues.  Boasting 11 Tony nominations (but tragically only 1 win), this show is absolutely fantastic!

The Production Team:
  • SET DESIGN -- This was actually pretty cool.  The sad thing about the stage is how narrow and deep it is.  While it works for some shows (like Ragtime), it proves to be a hindrance for others with higher choreography (such as Fame).  For that reason, all of the staging seemed a bit squished, but the set pieces were well designed.  They had two or three "walls" that could be made rooms (bed room, doctors office, train car etc.) and were just flat walls on the other.  This meant there could be a relatively full set for the scenes with a few people, and could be easily rolled away for the shows with bigger dance numbers.  They also had one big wall with a door in the middle, staircase to one side and a balcony on top.  I thought they made good use of this piece.  It didn't take up too much room, it made for some fun entrances and exits, and a bit of comedy on the part of Freddy and Christine with the staircase.
  • EVERYTHING ELSE -- not much to report here.  The Costumes were pretty much standard, taken straight from the Broadway production from the looks of it (but I do have to say that the costume for "Ruprect" was pretty great!)  As always, the choreography was strong, but they didn't have many songs to work with.  There was some impressive ballroom dancing in The More We Dance and Giving Them What They Want but they really peaked at Oklahoma? which was more of a standard "line-dance ish" number.  The blocking was sound, the lights were pretty simplistic, and there seemed to be no technical snags at all.  One thing I did find pretty impressive was, as the set pieces were moved (by the actors, mostly butlers, seamen or something) they stayed in character in the way they walked on and off even while the lights were down.  It wasn't a big thing, but I thought it was a nice touch.
Now to the most exciting part of any review (for me anyway) THE CAST!!!!!!

The Cast:

  • Alexander S. (Lawrence Jameson) - The legendary John Lithgow originated the role and was nominated for a Tony Award for it.  So Alexander had some mighty big shoes to fill, but I am proud to say that for the second production in a row, Alex has stolen my vote for favorite performer.  He was absolutely hysterical in Hairspray as Mr. Turnblat and tackled the role of Jameson with the same energy and comedic timing.  From the class he brought to Give Them What they Want to the wacky hilarity in Ruffhousin' with Shuffhausen to his heartfelt moment in Love Sneaks In he had me staring the entire show.  His singing wasn't incredibly strong, and his dancing (though admirably well, he was able to keep up with the intense Pebblebrook numbers without slipping once, which is no easy feat) wasn't the best.  But his acting is what made the character strong.  Even in songs he wasn't in (like Nothing Is Too Wonderful) he made hysterical (his eyebrow raised as he leaned out from behind the wall practically made the show).  His predominant character was classy and refined, but when he got to mix it up with being Zany (as "ze docktor"), patronizing (All About Ruprect) or genuinely vulnerable (When Love Sneaks In) the transition was seamless.  All of his relationships (with Freddy, Andre, Christine etc.) were unique and intricately played.  All in all, I wish I could put into words why I liked him so much, but all I can say is he was outstanding (and seeing as he's only a sophomore) I look forward to seeing him steal many more shows to come.
  • Lukas V. (Andre Thibault) -- Andre was the one character I really knew nothing about coming into the show.  What I found was the character was good, but not on the same level as many of the leads; which was also my conclusion about Lukas.  Now, I don't want to sound overly critical, Lukas was good.  He kept an accent consistently through the entire show (which, anyone who knows me would know, I cannot do), and his acting was pretty solid.  But his biggest number in the show Like Zis, Like Zat was honestly a bit of a let down.  It was OK, but he couldn't match the energy of his scene partner (Taylor E.), his dancing was a tad awkward, and the singing, while good, wasn't great.  He seemed more comfortable in his scenes than his songs.  There were some great moments between him and Taylor (Muriel), but those moments were not accompanied by music.
  • Taylor E. (Muriel Eubanks) -- After seeing Taylor in Hairspray (Penny Pingleton), I knew she had energy and potential, but I didn't have a good feeling of her actual talent (the character isn't built for a super strong voice).  But after seeing her play Muriel I have a new respect for her as an actress.  She really did a spectacular job.  Although the role is also a comedic airhead (like Penny), Muriel seemed to have slightly more depth and the score have Taylor more of a chance to spread her musical wings.  She did a beautiful job belting What Was A Woman To Do and delivered Like Zis, Like Zat with a certain energy and charm.  She also remained strong in her scenes, with some hilarious moments with Lukas (Andre).  All in all I left impressed with her performance.
  • Hamilton M. (Freddy Benson) - Hamilton also had incredibly large shoes to fill, that of Broadway hero Norbert Leo Butz (who won a Tony for his portrayal of Freddy).  On top of that, although I was impressed with Hamilton's previous performances (Tateh [Ragtime] & Link [Hairspray]) I wasn't exactly blown away.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Hamilton really stepped up to the plate and I think this was his best performance yet!  Although some could argue that some scenes were overacted, I am of the belief that that's how the role should be played and therefore was done perfectly.  He was over the top, hysterical, and really held nothing back, and that impressed me.  Like Lukas, (and a good portion of the cast actually) he looked more comfortable when he wasn't singing.  That's not to say that he doesn't have a good voice, he does.  His deliverance of the big note in Dirty Rotten Number (something I've been attempting for some time) was spot on, and I know he can dance (although this show didn't showcase it so much).  In fact, his bio says that he's a Vocal Major and Dance Minor, but he still seemed to do better when he had lines in front of him instead of lyrics.  As for his songs, I was a bit disjointed in his performance of some of my favorite numbers (such as Great Big Stuff), but some of the ones I didn't like so much going into the show were amazing.  He was delightfully funny in All About Ruprect and The Reckoning, and delivered a nice blend of comedy and sincerity in Love is My Legs.  The chemistry between him and Alexander (Jameson) was a joy to watch (their first scene together was among my favorites) and when the pair of them were in a scene with Hope (the girl who played Christine) their combined energy and talent just lit up the stage.  All in all, Hamilton has gotten better every time I've seen him, so I can't wait to see how he'll continue to grow.
  • Jennifer G. (Jolene Oakes) -- When I entered the theater I had completely forgot that Jennifer's character existed.  Aside from a few spoken lines in All About Ruprect, she has only one song (Oklahoma?) which has a large dance break in it, so I never listened to it much.  So I had literally zero expectations for Jennifer, which she over passed by a mile!  From the instant she entered the stage drowned in shopping bags, to her screaming retreat, Jennifer had me (and the rest of the audience) rolling in the aisles!  Her accent, her enthusiasm, and most of all, her physicality were just spot on.  And on top of it all, she held her own leading the biggest dance number of the show and sang like a Broadway pro!  Her rapid shift in emotions were almost as funny as the emotional extremities themselves.  All in all, she took a character without much depth and made her one of the highlights of the show.  So Kudos to Jennifer G.!!!
  • Hope E. (Christine Colgate) - I was fairly impressed with Hope's portrayal of Serena in Fame, and was blown away by her work in The Heat Is On, so I was disappointed when I didn't see her in Hairspray.  Of course, that just means that I was all the more thrilled to see her reappear in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.  Of course, she too had to step into some massive shoes.  Sherri Rene Scott (the role's originator, known most for her roles in The Last Five Years, The Little Mermaid, and Aida) is right up there with the "belting queens of Broadway".  However, like her co-stars, she took this pressure in stride and while she may not have equaled her predecessor (as if anybody could), she did remarkably well.  She (unlike some of her cast mates) seemed right at home singing and, in the few songs we got to see her dance, her dance major was evident.  She (with Alexander) probably best represented the "triple threat" concept.  Her strongest moments were probably her powerful ballads (Nothing Is Too Wonderful & Love Is My Legs) and I really enjoyed her final two scenes (The Reckoning and the scene directly preceding and including Finale) where we got to see a different side of her character.  As I said, the scenes (such as Finale) with her, Hamilton (Freddy), and Alexander (Jameson) were the funnest to watch because you really felt a connection between the three of them; it's a shame that there wasn't more of them.  Anyway, in case I didn't make it clear enough, Hope was fabulous!
ENSEMBLE -- As always, the Pebblebrook ensemble was flawless.  Because of the show, they weren't as featured as they have been in other shows, so I don't have much to say about them but they were excellent.  The choreography in The More We Dance and Oklahoma? was top notch (as always), the singing sounded like a backing track, and the vocal conditioning was breathtaking (get it?.......breathtaking?).  It would've been nice if some of the minor roles were a bit louder, but it was a big theater and they had to have conversations with people with mics, so I completely understand.

I almost didn't go to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, if my friends (shout out to Franky and Holly) hadn't agreed to come with me I probably would've skipped it.  THANK YOU FRANKY AND HOLLY It was one of the best shows I've seen all year (granted it's only April, but still) and it was definitely worth it.  The cast took a show that I thought was boring with a pretty great soundtrack and made it come alive.  I'll remember this show for a long time!

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