Chester County has certainly become a hotspot for theatre in the past few years. With the likes of People’s Light, Limelight Theatre Co, and for the past two years, Resident Theatre Company. I have had a few opportunities to catch productions at RTC where they perform in the new Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center in the Borough of West Chester. There latest offering brings us Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, directed by RTC’s Producing Artistic Director Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell, running until April 14th.
Based on the film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, Jeffrey Lane (Book) and David Yazbek (Music & Lyrics) take the finest moments from the film and bring them to life again with music. Director McLaughlin Mitchell assembled a fine cast that delivers the comedic goods to this small crime caper of story. If you recall the film, it starred Michael Caine and Steven Martin, whereas the original Broadway cast starred John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz. Here, the dynamic duo is played by the suave Mark Woodard (Lawrence Jameson) and charismatic Lukas Poost (Freddy Benson).
The premise of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has Jameson courting and conning women of wealth out of money, most notably jewels, near the French Riviera. American gypsy Benson has similar courting habits but with far less return on investment. When Benson learns of Jameson’s larger-than-life scheming ploys and residuals, he wants in! Jameson wants none of it, until he realizes he got suckered into a long-term relationship with a gal from Oklahoma (Jolene played by Philippa Lynas) and needs assistance from Benson to get out. The two cohorts then wager on another suspecting victim (Christine Colgate as played by Bailey Seeker) on who can turn over a profit first.
Yazbeck’s score has some remarkably catchy tunes like “Here I Am”, charmingly sung by Seeker, and “Great Big Stuff” as sung by Poost who throughout the production mixes the likes of Martin and Butz while pleasingly tossing a little Jeremy Jordan our way. Like all musical comedies, the secondary characters truly make a splash. It is certainly easy to skim quickly over the characters of Andre Thibault (Jonathan Hadley), business sidekick/butler type to Jameson, and Muriel Eubanks (Sarah Solie) one of Jameson’s unsuspecting matrons. Thankfully, Lane’s book flushes both characters out and gives them a meaty sub-text and deliciously funny musical theatre moments. It also includes the outlandish and memorable scene with “Ruprecht.”
The real standout to this production is the ensemble. Choreographer Dann Dunn is one of the few TRUE musical theatre choreographers in and around Philadelphia. Dunn, also one of the founders of Music Theatre Philly, understands that choreography is intended to aid and abet the story. I have seen many, upon many productions with Dunn’s names in the credits and in every one his choreography is inventive and masterful. Oh, how I wish I could be a “Dunn Girl!” Mixing the ensemble along with the narrative gives the essence of a “Pink Panther” caper.
RTC’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was entertaining, fast-paced, and well-acted. I would not consider it “New York Theatre in West Chester” as this company self-bills themselves.
- The lighting plot and equipment is amateur. They had some LEDs but their functionality didn’t allow to transition, only off and on with a quick bump. There are scripted moments where that was essential, but this happened with every scene. Lighting was also an issue particularly during large ensemble numbers as some were dancing in light and many were dancing in shadows or darkness.
- Spotlight operation was not it’s best. Having only one spotlight when trying to light two people is extremely difficult and it continuously cut off people’s faces.
- Site lines to back stage were an issue when using downstage entrances and exits often seeing the running crew/actors behind the scenes. The scenic design didn’t take this into account.
- Although the orchestra played well, they were hard to hear as they were only amplified from the front of the house missing that full robust sound and energy you tend to get in a Broadway theatre.
- Even though it was opening night, the curtain speech didn’t begin until 7:11 pm and went on until 7:25 pm for a 7 pm curtain.
I certainly don’t aim to take away from the efforts and story-telling of RTC’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I simply feel the need to differentiate what I would consider “New York Theatre” versus good Philly area theatre, which this is. Philadelphia offers many Broadway quality productions and designs. This is worth seeing. Even more so, it’s worth spending a full evening in town with dinner pre-show and drinks post. Uptown! is two blocks from the heart of West Chester’s restaurant and bar “district”. Resident Theatre Company has a passionate staff and even more enthusiastic donors. It is a welcomed addition to Chester County and even more so for the professional actors of Philadelphia to have another performance opportunity. They haven’t publicly announced it yet, but they have an exciting Season 3 headed your way.
For more info and tickets: http://www.rtcwc.org/
Photos by ClintonBPhotography