A Marlin Brando film that was adapted to a 1988 film starring Steve Martin and John Caine, and later adapted to a musical starring John Lithgow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has quite the history of talent and success. The 1988 movie is on the list of Bravo’s 100 funniest and the 2005 musical ran for 626 shows in total. Given this history, I was quite eager to see how the RPI Players’ version of the musical measured up. Not that there wasn’t some impressive talent involved in RPI’s own production—director Norman J. Eick has been producing and directing for 30 years and has numerous TANYS awards for directing and producing.
The line was literally out the door when I arrived at the Saturday showing, indicating that the previous performances had gone quite well. I’m pleased to report that it did in fact turn out to be great.
The show is a comical farce involving two con men and a gorgeous woman set on the French Riviera. I don’t want to give anything away, because I really do recommend watching the movie, but it has many twists and is the sort of story that revels in keeping the audience guessing. Littered among the plot twists were plenty of little jokes and snappy dialogue that were so frequent, I’m sure I missed a sizeable amount, but those I caught were delightful. However, having seen the movie and thinking it was absolutely hilarious, it was how the Players would carry off the play that I was unsure of. They managed it beautifully, of course. Comedy like that requires great timing, and all the actors from the leads to the one-line-roles to the ensemble, pulled it off perfectly. At no point that I was aware of, did any joke fall flat or any dialogue seem tired or trite. In a way, the fact that I was absorbed enough to notice little but what was happening between the characters says it all.
The show wasn’t completely seamless, though. At one point, while setting up for a scene, some china got knocked over. As the crew quickly paused the show and cleaned this up, some members of the audience began singing the main theme of the show, and the music director made an appearance on stage to conduct them. This little mishap didn’t detract from the show at all—in fact it was somewhat of a highlight to the interactive experience that is theatergoing, just another break of the fourth wall. Kyle Johnson ’16, who played Andre and was on stage at the time, said in his character’s French accent, “I apologize to anyone in ze splash zone.”
I feel Johnson, along with Taylor Turner ’16 who played Muriel, deserve quite some praise for their performances. The two, who had a secondary love story within the play, were adored by the crowd, and for good reason, they both played charming roles well. I also must admit that I am becoming quite the fan of Bryce Miller ’16, who I’ve seen before in the Fall 2013 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and who delivered an energetic and convincing performance as Freddy. Casey Adam ’16 as Jolene was wonderful as an Oklahoma girl; she had great stage presence and her accent deserves an award of its own. Veronica Brice ’16, as Christine, played an innocent sweetheart well. I preferred the chemistry between Jeffrey Jene, a local actor, and Miller to that between Bryce and the male leads though. The ensemble was so good that I am guilty of watching them dance instead of the leads at some points during the musical numbers.
On that last point, this show was in fact a musical. One with a live orchestra, which was so well assembled and seamless that I forgot the music was live until Frank Leavitt, the musical director, appeared on stage during the china mishap.
That wasn’t the only interactive aspect of the show, though. There was quite a bit of breaking of the fourth wall. There were also a couple of jokes involving Troy and RPI thrown in. Unfortunately, they weren’t all the most original or funny of the plays gags—in a song about all he could do with the riches he covets, Freddy whispers to the audience, “I could finally afford RPI.” However, the effort was endearing.
The cast and crew should be given kudos for working in conditions that can be described as less than comfortable. Because of the live orchestra, backstage was quite cramped, and at one point, for the sake of a sound effect, a crew member wended her way through what can be described as a spaghetti plate of wires, waited for her cue from stage, and snapped a leather belt under a microphone. Quite a dedicated bunch, this troupe.
This sentiment seemed to be shared by the director, with whom I chatted with for a few minutes. He said it was an absolute delight working with them and this was one of the nicest directing experiences he’s had in his 30 years on the job. He was also full of praise for the orchestra, citing a discussion he’d had with the musical director, in which it was said how impressive it was that some of RPI’s engineering students were better musicians than music students he’d worked with.
Jene played the leading male role, Lawrence. I managed to speak with him briefly in the front of the house after the show, where he told me that the Players were a great “high talent, low drama” bunch to work with, and this was probably his favorite of the 11 productions of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he’d been in. The experience showed, too—it was a pleasure to watch him bring Lawrence to life. He added that he’d love to be on the RPI stage again.
Overall, it was an evening full of laughter, and I still have some of the songs stuck in my head—not that I mind. When it comes to audiences, the Players are certainly giving them what they want.