Director Paul Bernier loves working with musicals like "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," which kicks off the 34th season for Crown Uptown Theatre tonight, because it has a little something for everyone.
"It's a combination of sophistication and slapstick that is very appealing to me," says Bernier, who is based at the Off Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, Fla., where he directed the show earlier this year. "Comedy is what I do best, and this show lets us do a little something for everyone."
Besides, says Bernier, who also directed "All Shook Up" for Crown Uptown last February, the music is surprisingly strong and rich for what would normally be considered a pretty silly show.
"The comedy is a given and it can be pretty broad. But the music is really, really good. The songs are all top-notch numbers," Bernier says of the music and lyrics by David Yazbek, who also wrote the musical "The Full Monty."
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The show snagged 11 Tony nominations and 10 Drama Desk nominations when it was on Broadway in 2005. It's based on the 1998 crime caper with Michael Caine and Steve Martin about two con men who specialize in scamming rich, lonely women on the French Riviera. When a ditsy American soap opera star crosses their paths, they make a bet to see which one can outdo the other. The winner gets bragging rights and the loser has to slink away in shame and defeat.
Rob Summers, best remembered as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" and the patient pastor of the two "Church Basement Ladies" shows, plays Lawrence, a suave and seasoned British ladies' man with expensive tastes (Caine's role) who has been the undisputed king of the Riviera for years.
"Lawrence is very self-assured, perhaps a bit narcissistic. He is very confident and knows exactly what he wants," says Summers, who uses a hint of mid-Atlantic accent to create the character, but also throws in wildly ridiculous German and Spanish accents when the character tries to disguise himself. "His flaw is that he has gotten too comfortable, which makes him a bit smug — and vulnerable."
Michael Karraker, most recently seen as the hip-swiveling Elvis wannabe of "All Shook Up," plays Freddy (Martin's role), an eager American upstart who is a bit of a klutz and a small-time operator. He idolizes Lawrence at first, but then feels bullied into challenging him.
"I like Freddy because he is a raw talent, an unpolished gem. He is clever in his own street-smart way, but he's like a kid who has a lot to learn," says Karraker, a Hutchinson native best remembered as the wacky sadistic dentist of Stage One's "Little Shop of Horrors."
The nai(uml)ve and scattered American celebrity who becomes the prize both men compete for is Christine, played by Cassandra Nuss, a 2007 Wichita State theater graduate who, since moving to Los Angeles, was Jo in "Little Women: The Musical" and was in the West Coast regional premiere of "Rent."
Also in the cast are Kimberly Dugger, Tara Tucker, Timothy Robu, Angela Johnson, Rachel Chinn, Delno Ebie, Casey Patrick, Miles Mattal and Sarah Gale. Jesse Warkentin is music director and Barb Schoenhofer is choreographer.
If you go
'dirty rotten scoundrels'
What: Musical kicking off the 34th season for Crown Uptown Theatre
Where: 3205 E. Douglas
When: Opens tonight and runs Thursday-Sunday evenings through Oct. 17 with three select Thursday matinees.
How much: Tickets $28.95-$35.95 plus tax; includes buffet dinner. Call 316-681-1566.