WEST VALLEY CITY — Every time I attend a show at the West Valley Hale, what I look forward to most is the design. When I walk into the theater I expect to be immediately thrown in a state of complete awe and excitement for the show to come. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was no exception.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is based on the 1988 film of the same name. The story is thus: successful con-man Lawrence Jameson spends his days conning wealthy vacationing women; along comes small-scale con man Freddy Benson who discovers Jameson’s cons and requests to learn his tricks. Teaching ensues when along comes Christine Colgate, the American Soap Queen and the next target for Jameson and Freddy. Don’t worry, though; it’s a comedy! Hilarity ensues as the men vie for Christine’s attention and money. The musical was nominated for numerous Tony Awards in 2005 including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and four actor nominations. Back to the West Valley production, though . . .
When you walk into the Hale’s theater in the round, you are greeted by a huge, glittering curtain surrounding the stage from ceiling to floor. In the moderately intimate space the curtain seems so close you could reach out and touch it; those on the front row probably could. When the lights go down and the curtain rises, however, the show itself doesn’t live up to the glitz and magnanimity of the precedent set by that curtain. (Amazing how much a curtain can say.) As always, the West Valley Hale theater seems to put more time into the aesthetic of their shows than the actual performances. Acting was—especially for the ticket price—less than desirable, and when I say that I don’t mean anyone on stage was a “bad actor.” That certainly wasn’t true; everyone was no doubt extremely talented and worked hard at their craft. What was missing was strong character development, and as a result a lot (dare I say most?) of the humor was lost. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is such a humor-driven show! On the evening that I saw the show, the audience only laughed at about half of the jokes because of poor delivery and timing.
Kyle Olsen (MWF cast) as Freddy Benson and Mark Knowles (MWF) as Lawrence Jameson didn’t strike me as con men. The characters weren’t big enough. Thankfully, they found their Buzz and Shuffhausen and played them beautifully and engagingly; I finally believed them and just plain liked them a lot more during the second half of the show. Perhaps it was the addition of Angela Jeffries (MWF) as Christine Colgate that improved the energy and comedy. Olsen and Jeffries’ duet “Love is My Legs” was undoubtedly one of the best and funniest parts of the show. Their characters finally shone during that song, and because of that the audience could laugh with them for once.
The singing was consistently stellar throughout the entire show. Musical ability was definitely the actors’ strongest skill. One of my favorite moments of the show came in “What Was a Woman to Do” when Emily Bell jumped onstage as The Usher; it was one of the first moments that actually grabbed my attention. Bell gave a gallant attempt later as Jolene, the eccentric Oklahoman heiress, but seemed to have a difficult time as her character and her perplexing costume (a pink capri pantsuit?) were in constant conflict. Surprisingly for a Hale production, the ensemble was lackluster, although their singing was pitch perfect. Ensembles need to provide a solid foundation for the world of the show, but instead there was sloppy movement all around. They didn’t embody the world of the show; instead they seemed awkward and often in the way.
If you’re familiar with the original Broadway production and are worried about content, don’t fret! The production team and director David Tinney took their audience into account and I can guarantee this to be a fun, family-friendly musical. With some of the comfiest seats around, the West Valley Hale does put on a good show—not a perfect show, but definitely a good one. The music is captivating and the script is still full of hilarity—it just takes a bit of digging to find.