REVIEW: 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' at Starlight

The touring production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" playing this week at Starlight is quick, clever and full of delightful surprises. Its fantastic cast, witty production design and snappy songs make for one of the best shows to grace the venue's stage in recent memory.

Based on the ingenious 1988 movie, "Scoundrels" tells the story of Lawrence Jameson and Freddy Benson, two grifters working the French resort town of Beaumont sur Mer. Both target gaudily wealthy women, whom they charm out of their fortunes with phony tales of romance and pathos. When tacky-but-bold Freddy figures out Lawrence's game, he threatens to expose the older and established con man. In exchange for his silence, Freddy demands that Lawrence share his tricks of the trade.

Deciding that the tourist traffic doesn't afford enough targets for two hunters, the men make a bet: He who finagles the fortune out of newly-arrived "American soap queen" Christine Colgate wins both the money and the whole town to himself. Disguises, bed-hopping and much more wackiness ensue.

Broadway and touring vet Tom Hewitt could scarcely be better as the refined Lawrence, who has built a tidy fortune from his years of charming his way into women's pocketbooks. It might be easy to hate such a caddy baddy, but Hewitt's easy charisma makes the trickery amusingly plausible and likable.

D.B. Bonds plays Freddy as a big, sloppy ball of id. Leading with guts instead of smarts, he's strikingly and shrewdly different from Steve Martin's memorable performance in the movie. It's always difficult for a stage actor to reprise a role already famous on film, but Bonds' performance doesn't recall Martin's in any way. It's still hilariously effective.

The supporting cast is as strong as the leads, from Laura Marie Duncan's sweet Christine to understudy Natalie Nucci's boisterously vulgar Oklahoman Jolene.

Composer David Yazbek's score is crisp and fun, and scores considerable points for not taking itself too seriously. Blissfully free of the Sondheim-worship that afflicts most modern musical writers, Yazbek writes showtune lyrics that sound like sitcom lines (the well-written kind). He even has the audacity to name a song "Oklahoma" â“ with a question mark, not an exclamation point â“ then rhymes it with âœmelanoma.â

Opening night benefited from a lucky break in the ominous weather, since Starlight president Bob Rohlf warned before curtain time that the tour's sophisticated digital sound equipment couldn't endure a sprinkle of rain. Most of the amplification was a marked improvement on the usual piercing Starlight sound, though a malfunctioning mic nearly did in Drew McVety's droll performance of âœLike Zis/Like Zatâ in the second act.

The show keeps the twists piling up on one another, but the best gag is actually on the hundreds of rude audience members who always begin shooting for the exits long before the end of any show at Starlight. The biggest and funniest quadruple-cross in "Scoundrels" comes in the very last few minutes, and it's not to be missed. Good things really do come to those who wait.