THE BASICS: DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, based on the 1988 Michael Caine/Steve Martin/Glenne Headly movie, is a 2004 musical by David Yazbeg, presented by Second Generation Theatre Company, directed by Lisa Ludwig, starring Peter Palmisano, Gregory Gjurich, Amy Jakiel, Jake Albarella, Mary Gjurich, Arianne Davidow, and an excellent ensemble, through Sunday, June 26, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:30 at the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster (683-1776). Ample free parking behind the theater. An elevator is available. Runtime 2-1/2 hours with a 20-minute intermission (soft drinks, cookies, and other snacks available). www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: At a swanky resort on the French Riviera, the comfortable life of a suave con artist (Palmisano), aided by the chief of police (Gjurich), is unsettled by the arrival of an unkempt, bumbling rookie con man (Albarella). The two con men try to work together, but in the end decide to settle their rivalry with a bet: the first to swindle the visiting Colgate soap heiress (Jakiel) out of $50,000 can stay; the other must leave town.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
The attraction of this production to me was, first and foremost, the cast. Kudos to director Lisa Ludwig for assembling this ensemble brimming with talent and experience. One mark of a great actor is when you say “Oh, he/she didn’t really have to work that hard; she was just playing herself.” Hah!
And, in the tradition of great ensembles, it’s impossible to say who is the “star” of the show. But in order of appearance on stage, certainly the through-line is carried marvelously by the resident con man, Lawrence Jameson, played by Peter Palmisano, most recently seen in two very tense dramas THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR at the JRT and ALL MY SONS at the ICTC. Here, Palmisano brings oodles of charm to this role. True, it’s a musical and he may not be a Frank Sinatra level crooner, but in the tradition of say Richard Burton, Richard Harris, or Robert Goulet, he uses the technique known as Sprechgesang (“spoken singing”) which allows major actors to bring star power to musicals. And, anyway, all six principles wear microphones, so you can clearly hear every word.
On stage for the opening number is Palmisano’s “wing-man,” played by the most recent Artie Award winner of the cast, Gregory Gjurich, as French chief of police, Andre Thibault, who aids and abets every con, not only because he gets a share in the proceeds, but also because donations are frequently made to a local charity. He’s not a bad guy, at all. And, he presumably goes along because he knows that a true professional is conning the guests, and so there won’t be any scandals. Nobody plays “put upon” or “world weary” better than Gjurich, and, as mentioned, in this ensemble cast, he keeps it all centered. His role is, in a way, the male equivalent of the role of Muriel Eubanks, providing a tent pole against which all the conning, and swindling, and swirling, wheeling and dealing can revolve.
Things are good at the resort. But then Jacob Albarella as Freddy Benson, a crude, rude swindler arrives on the scene, and unable to get rid of him, Palmisano at first tries to mentor him, with mixed results, and ultimately ends up in a contest, winner take all, loser leaves town, to swindle a soap heiress. Albarella would seem to be type cast, after playing the slovenly, porn-addicted Trekkie Monster in Musicalfare’s Avenue Q and then the big, bad Wolf, in a recent TOY production, but who cares? He’s very entertaining. Albarella always brings very high energy, and an athleticism that is easy to take for granted. And then, in the middle of the show, Albarella channels his inner Elvis, and, by gosh, this guy has some pipes!
Mary Coppola Gjurich (in real life she and Greg are married with two kids!) plays another victim, Muriel Eubanks, so convincingly nice and helpful, sort of “the girl next door who is now all grown up.” She has great acting chops and a lovely singing voice. She provides that level of calm, that center, so necessary to keep shows with lots of craziness from spinning out of control. Very nicely played.
Arianne Davidow, a recent NU grad, was last seen as Queenie in Second Generation’s production of THE WILD PARTY. Unfortunately, she plays a character, Jolene Oakes from Oklahoma, who isn’t on stage for all that long. What can I say? She’s got a beautiful singing voice, Vegas quality legs, she can dance, she’s an athletic actor, and she’s cute as a button. Let’s hope she doesn’t leave town for the bright lights elsewhere.
Just when things are slowing down, and you are wondering “how can the second act sustain the energy” on stage walks Amy Jakiel, most recently the co-host of the 2016 Artie Awards as well as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in AVENUE Q.
Ah, but then, just when things are slowing down, and you are wondering “how can the second act sustain the energy” on stage walks Amy Jakiel, most recently the co-host of the 2016 Artie Awards as well as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in AVENUE Q. Jakiel plays Christine Colgate, the American soap heiress, with charm, and physical prowess and great acting chops. And what a voice! Am I smitten? Sure. But you will be too. Jakiel has it all, and she brings her A game.
I would be remiss not to mention the ensemble, four men and four women, who sing and dance, and inhabit a very wide variety of roles and who bring incredibly high energy and discipline to the (smaller) stage at the Lancaster Opera House. They are in no particular order: Sean Murphy, Emily Prucha, Sean Ryan (Dance Captain), Jon Yepez, Dan Urtz, Shelby Ehrenreich, Chloe Barg. Congratulations, guys, you were wonderful.
Some quick shout-outs. Lisa Ludwig’s direction is, as always, a bit “in-your-face” but for this musical farce, it’s good. Choreography by Bobby Cooke is smooth, and working with a small stage is challenging, I’m sure. The music direction by Allan Paglia really cooked. The band is not in a pit, but above stage left on the balcony, and the sound, along with the mic’d actors, blended very well. The brass was a little weak, but got stronger as the show moved along. The set wasn’t up to Paul Bostaph’s usual high standards (he won a 2016 Artie for Outstanding Set Design) but I didn’t go to see the set. On the other hand, the lighting by Ruth Strzelewicz was stunning and worked seamlessly with the show. Very nice.
So, take the drive out to Lancaster, accessible via Broadway or Walden, about a 20 to 30-minute drive, depending. It’s worth it.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!