The bookends sag but the middle shines in Pioneer Theatre’s “Scoundrels”

Sat Oct 19, 2019 at 11:47 am
By Catherine Reese Newton
Brent Barrett and Matthew Hydzik and Talya Groves star in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Pioneer Theatre Company.

In recent years, Pioneer Theatre Company has taken to presenting a bonus musical each season — limited-run concert stagings of musicals such as The Rocky Horror ShowLa Cage aux Folles and In the Heights. This year’s offering is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the 2004 musical by David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Jeffrey Lane (book) based on the Michael Caine/Steve Martin comedy about rival con men on the French Riviera.

If “concert staging” makes you think of performers in evening wear stationed behind music stands, think again. Pioneer’s production, smartly directed and choreographed by Karen Azenberg, features multiple costume changes, a full complement of props, and a whole lot of dancing that’s all the more impressive considering the cast had only ten rehearsals.

As for the show itself, it’s an overstuffed suitcase. Nearly the entirety of Act 1 feels like a lengthy setup, and the end of the show meanders too long after the payoff. (Yazbek and Lane could learn a thing or two from Giacomo Puccini.) But the hour between the exposition and the epilogue is pure gold. Stick with it — you’ll be glad you did.

The production benefits from five strong leads. Brent Barrett and Matthew Hydzik have excellent chemistry as sophisticated man-about-town Lawrence Jameson and crass vulgarian Freddy Benson, the roles originated by Caine and Martin, respectively. Hydzik’s rock-inflected vocals and Barrett’s traditional leading-man style work surprisingly well together. 

Elizabeth Ward Land brings stellar timing and a torchy voice to the role of man-hungry Muriel Eubanks, with David Elder equally solid as Lawrence’s sidekick, Andre Thibault. But it’s Kate Fahrner as “soap queen” Christine Colgate who steals the show with her dynamite voice and gift for physical comedy. The musical doesn’t really start rolling until she shows up.

Talya Groves brings delightful Ado Annie energy to her role as oil heiress Jolene Oakes, but it’s in service of a subplot that feels completely disposable. (Sure, the rhyming of “Oklahoma” with “melanoma” brings laughs, but the Mel Brooks-style humor involving Freddy feigning cognitive impairment falls flat.) After that storyline wraps up, Groves joins the supporting ensemble of top-notch singers and dancers. A 16-piece onstage orchestra led by Phil Reno was also in fine form on Friday’s opening night.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels repeats 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday October 19 at the Pioneer Memorial Theatre.; 801-581-6961.

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