Uptown's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Plays Naughty Con Games; PFamily Arts Theatre's I Do! I Do! Doesn't
"Give Them What They Want" is the first number in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and the current entertainment model of Uptown Players, the company presenting the area's first local production of the show. Giving the Uptown audience—a mostly middle-aged, predominantly gay male crowd of dedicated theatergoers—what they want means the occasional foray into fluff like this. Vulgar fluff, yes, but heaps of fun, especially with Uptown's unrepentant scenery-chewers in the leads.
Overacting is the job du jour in this R-rated musical farce set in fictional French Riviera resort Beaumont sur Mer. No gesture is too large, no French accent too Clouseau-esque. Everything's exaggerated for maximum laugh-itude. Director Cheryl Denson, Dallas theater's best at mining material for giggles and guffaws, gets her ensemble over any silly notions about subtext or subtlety. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is burlesque, bebe, played goggle-eyed, out front, with its pants around its ankles.
Based pretty closely on the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin (with a wink toward the 1963 film Bedtime Story starring David Niven and Marlon Brando), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels pits two clever conmen, debonair Lawrence Jameson (Bob Hess) against scruffy two-bit hustler Freddy Benson (Dallas theater newcomer Jimmy Hays Nelson). They place a $50,000 wager to see who can woo and screw, sexually and financially, vacationing American soap heiress Christine Colgate (Catherine Carpenter Cox). But who's conning whom? With more hairpin turns than the road to Monte Carlo, the show has the flim-flam men finding out that more than two can play their game.
The slickest jambon-y machines in this production are Hess and Nelson. They're good singers and dancers, and when called upon to deliver writer Jeffrey Lane's vaudevillian dialogue they hit it with flair. "Freddy, what I am trying to say is, know your limitations." "Which are?" "You're a moron."
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Hess, with a devilish glint, relishes every word. In his first role at Uptown Players, Nelson has the Steve Martin part as Lawrence's apprentice. He has the stuff for musical comedy, but isn't wild and crazy enough yet, not even on the show's outrageous rap parody ode to greed called "Great Big Stuff": "A house in the Bahamas/ Paisley silk pajamas/ Poker with Al Roker and our friend Lorenzo Lamas/ Gimme Great Big Stuff!"
Nelson relaxes and gets rolling later when pretending to be Ruprecht, a simple-minded, goldfish-chomping genetic oopsy, who's supposed to keep an Okie golddigger (deliciously funny Marqui Maresca) from booting Lawrence to the altar. The audience loves Nelson in this part. If he cranked it up a twitch, they'd eat him with a spoon.
Two secondary leads come close to stealing the show from its stars. Noelle Stanley as wealthy tourist "Muriel of Omaha," and Lon D. Barrera as Andre, chief gendarme and Lawrence's accomplice, fall into each other's arms in the winsome "Like Zis/Like Zat." Their kinky "affair" is a running gag and had costumer Suzi Cranford given them better threads than a floral shmatta and a baggy, wrinkled suit, their sexy clinches would be even more effective.
Cox, as naive Christine, the unsuspecting "mark," is a tiny creature who can belt up a storm. She's not quite the clumsy kid the character's supposed to be, but she's a kick in her scenes with Hess and Nelson.Musical director Scott A. Eckert leads the jazzy eight-piece band, featuring horns and reeds. Chorus members Katharine Gentsch, Drew Kelly, Kelly McCain, Whitney Hennen, Sergio Antonio Garcia, Jessica Maxey, Dana Taylor, Ryan Cowles, Jason Moody, Carlos Gomez and Thomas Renner throw themselves into the hot tangos staged by choreographer Vicki Squires.
The aforementioned much-chewed scenery is the only major misstep in Scoundrels. If Uptown Players want to continue their uptick in status among Dallas' professional companies, they need sets nicer than the ones designed by Clare Floyd DeVries. With more interlocking pieces than a Survivor immunity challenge puzzle, the scenery, using the Kalita's revolving inner stage, eats up precious time during changes. A sloppily painted staircase and murky purple backdrop are downright ugly.It's the second show in a row for Uptown with sets and costumes that come across as shabby on the stage designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Uptown's audience deserves better in these departments. Not getting it would be a dirty rotten shame.
Married actors Ashley and Brian Gonzales may have found the vehicle they can ride into their dotage. I Do! I Do!, which the young Gonzaleses are starring in at Plano's PFamily Arts Theatre, is the two-hander musical by Tom Jones (books and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) that's about as uncomplicated as a musical can be. No reason Ashley and Brian can't keep doing it to stave off unemployment, anywhere and anytime they need to, for the next few decades.
Two actors, one piano (played by the always marvelous Mark Mullino) is how PFamily director William R. Park has done it and while it's not a successful production technically, there's nothing wrong with the talent.
Based on the Jan de Hartog play The Fourposter, the 1966 musical spans 50 years in the marriage of Agnes and Michael. Mostly in song, until the second act gets talky, I Do! I Do! depicts the ups and downs (mostly ups) of married life, with a 1950s gloss on matters such as childbirth, which Agnes quaintly calls her "confinement," and a husband's infidelity, which Agnes deals with by shopping for expensive hats. Millinery instead of alimony—was this ever a thing?
Ashley and Brian, seen often on Dallas stages until they decamped for Manhattan a few years ago, are solid musical theater pros. She's a tall, rubbery-faced comedian with a strong, chesty voice; he's a short, stocky character type who's quick on his feet—Jason Alexander with a mop of curly black hair. They have adorable chemistry. (We'll see Brian again this fall when the national tour of Shrek comes to the Music Hall at Fair Park.)
If only Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales were doing this show in a better venue than PFamily. Located at the back of a shopping center on a far-flung stretch of Preston Road, the theater is a no-frills black box with acoustics akin to the inside of an oil drum. The air conditioner buzzes like a plague of locusts and the chairs are back-breaking plastic folding jobs. No effort has been made to give this show any style, technically or visually. Flat lighting leaves dark spots center stage. And in lieu of real set and costume designs, PFamily has borrowed bulky furniture from the store next door (the bed linens still have tags on) and put the actors in droopy dresses and tuxes from a bridal retailer. Ashley's ash-blond wigs are cheap, shiny and don't fit her head.
Director Park also has cheapened his cast's valiant efforts to keep energy up by allowing too many time-wasting pauses between scenes. Dead air is deadly in a two-person musical. When no one's onstage, it's left to poor Mullino to vamp bar after repetitive bar until somebody comes back out and starts singing.
Maybe wait to see the Gonzaleses in I Do! I Do! when they do it someplace else.
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