ST. GEORGE — Judging by the comedic aptitude displayed at St. George Musical Theater’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the title of the show could easily be changed to Remarkably Talented Leads, or maybe Hilariously Charming Duo, or at the very least, Strikingly Superb Cast.
Based on the 1988 film of the same name, the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (with a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbek) came to life on the local level at the hands of director Kelly Olsen and choreographer Erica Bryce. In the theatrical version, high-end conman Lawrence Jameson is comfortably ensconced swindling naive American women on the French Riviera. His schemes are upset by the arrival of the smalltime criminal Freddy Benson, a lout who is the polar opposite of Lawrence. The two agree to a bet in which both try to swindle some money from the same heiress, with the loser being forced to leave town.
David Stanley could not have been more suited to the leading role of Lawrence, the sophisticated swindler who makes his money by sweet talking rich ladies out of their fortunes. His magnetism and charm were almost palpable; traits that were equally matched by his cohort in crime, the Andre Thibault, played by David Brinley.
In the earliest moments of the play, I could easily believe Lawrence and Andre could be the pair of scoundrels upon which the play is based. That is, until Abe Hegewald made his way on stage in the role of Freddy Benson, the other sleazy-yet-somehow-still-lovable-scoundrel who has just arrived in the French Riviera. The dramatic between Stanley and Hegewald was evident from the beginning, as was the comfortable charisma oozing from Hegewald’s version of Freddy. But the duo’s hilarity and hijinks piled on, layer by layer, in each successive scene, giving the show a rhythm that really hit its stride in the middle of Act 1 and kept going right to the end.
As per the script, after the two men meet on a train, Lawrence is tasked with giving lessons to Freddy in the art of scheming and swindling, setting the stage for the ensuing mirth. However, it is Hegewald as Freddy who could offer a master class in sacrificing oneself for his craft — taking physical comedy to a whole new level with some surprises that are just too good to spoil.
Holding their own against the high level talent of the show’s official “Scoundrels,” the leading ladies of the show are not to be outdone. A captivating presence on stage near the end of the first act, Mimi Knell is marvelous in the role of Christine Colgate. Knell’s performance is lovely and completely disarming. Her vocals shine like a beacon on “Nothing Is Too Wonderful,” and she proves to be the perfect match for Freddy in the clever and hilarious “Love Is My Legs.”
Danika Sanders played Jolene Oaks. From Sanders’s high energy rendition of “Oklahoma?”, to her horror at finding out what life would be like when it is “All About Ruprecht,” Sanders deserves more than just a tip of a cowboy hat for adding her hillbilly flair to the show. Finally, Muriel Eubanks (played by Laurice Williamson) hit the mark with her considerable contributions on numbers like “What Was A Woman To Do,” and “Like Zis, Like Zat.”The latter song was gratifying with the way that it played with the chemistry between Eubanks and Brinley.
In addition to providing backup vocals and scene-setting dance interludes, the ensemble cast earns a nod for managing the many set changes required to transport the audience from St. George, Utah, to the French Riviera all in-the-round. While a few of the set pieces rumbled loudly across the floor, the majority of the transitions were speedy and smooth. Costuming, lighting and the inclusion of an accordion player to set the mood prior to the show all came together to enhance the evening that earns high praise for its humor, heart and surprising plot twists.
While nods of acknowledgement are certainly owed to the ensemble as a whole, without a doubt the scoundrels themselves are to be credited with stealing much of the show — even as they stole the jewels from the necks of the women of France. In the end, these scoundrel’s pulled off a successful heist and stole my love and appreciation.