Ribald, not ‘Rotten’ 

The musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” now at the Pollard Theatre, includes a song titled “Oklahoma?,” sung by a character named Jolene Oakes, an oil heiress in a mink coat and miniskirt (played by the really funny Cory King), and it’s a humdinger.

Maybe someone will start a petition to make it the state song. I’d quote from the lyrics, but the best ones are unprintable in this publication.

“Scoundrels” is an adaptation of the 1988 film with Michael Caine and Steve Martin as jewel thieves and con men on the French Riviera. If you’re going to make an adaptation, it helps if you start with great material, which the movie is not.

Although David Yazbek’s score can be described generously as “eclectic,” and Jeffrey Lane’s book teems with broad jokes and sight gags, the Pollard’s production turns out to be somewhat satisfying, if wildly uneven.

You can tell it was written by New Yorkers, when Jolene refers to the “close of barbecue season.” Boys, barbecue season never closes in Oklahoma.

This “Scoundrels” is anchored by two reliable pros. Gregory Hopkins plays Lawrence Jamieson, the suave and debonair one, while Wil Rogers is Freddy Benson, a “Chimp in a Suit,” as sung by a corrupt gendarme, played by the fine Michael Edsel. Rogers seizes the play with an appealing, broadly comedic performance. He could even turn it up a notch or two, and maybe he will before the run ends.

Kudos go also to Susan Riley — always in fine voice and an excellent actor — as Christine Colgate.

In one scene, when writing to a Dr. Shuffhausen, Christine asks, “Should I use an umlaut?” Replies Freddy, “No, you smell great.”

The problems with this production, directed by W. Jerome Stevenson, are the usual ones with Pollard shows: namely, inexact execution. Missed sound, light and microphone cues wear down an audience after a while. I think the minimalist set is supposed to be like a blank canvas on which “scenery” is “painted” with lights by Don Childs, but the results are mixed and look a little spare at times.

The show provides some ribald fun. Hopkins’ character wants to avoid marriage to Jolene — no amount of oil money can lure him to Oklahoma — so Rogers plays Lawrence’s oddball brother, Ruprecht, in a scene that’s lifted directly from the movie. In the song “All About Ruprecht,” they refer to his “freshly shaved testicles on Christmas Day.”

“Scoundrels” is a big piece of fluff, sort of a frat party for theatergoers. Is that a candlestick in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?

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Larry Laneer

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