I always believed that big flashy musicals don’t work in intimate black box theaters. You need the large stage, the cat walks and the separation of the house from the stage. I am happy to announce that Academy Players’ production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has proven me wrong. This production envelops you in the world of the French Riviera from the moment you step in. Rita Maron’s set design welcomes you to the coast of France, and as you sit there you can’t help but wish for flip-flops and a drink with an umbrella in it.
The show’s opening number is the overture, which is generally the time to check out your playbill, and double check that your phone is off. Maron’s choreography, however, sucks you right into the story, and the ensemble plays their part perfectly! The show opens with Lawrence Jameson, played by Jack B. Klaus and his “bodyguard” (the chief of police) played by Zach Searle. After tricking another target out of her money, Muriel played by Justine Durvin, Andre warns Lawrence of a new con man in town, “the jackal.” Lawrence then witnesses Freddy Benson swindle a woman out of $20, and assumes he is the jackal and will have to run him out of town. Through a series of events, Freddy convinces Lawrence to tutor him in the fine art of the con. On opening night, Freddy was played by Kevin Broccoli. By Act Two with the introduction of Christine, played by Alison Kelly, things get a bit more complicated. It’s a large cast, and not everyone can be mentioned, which is not to diminish their talent. However, here are some highlights.
Jack B. Klaus plays the polished, experienced con man well. Watching him slip between cons was a true delight! Zach Searle shows a range of emotions from the bored “bodyguard” to the crazed lovesick man in Act Two. Even when he would do something as simple as fiddling with his cigarette he embodies the character fully and keeps the audience laughing. And his voice shines through in his songs. A definite highlight of the production is Durvin’s portrayal of Muriel. She was hysterical, a true comedic actress. Kevin Broccoli had me in stitches almost every time he was on stage! And his rendition of “Great Big Stuff” was truly memorable. Alison Kelly’s Christine is endearing.
It’s always nice to hear live music in a theatrical production. The pit sounded great, albeit they sometimes were a bit too loud. Thankfully powerhouse voices like Broccoli’s and Searle’s could carry over it, but it is a bit more difficult when you’re hitting those high notes. It didn’t diminish from the performances, however.
Rita Maron is Academy Players. She has her hand in everything, and is so experienced and talented at it all; she is a true gift for this group. Maron directed, and designed the choreography, set and props. This multi-talent put her own mark on the show with a hilarious nod to Les Mis, and even little Rhody at one point! To say that it is difficult meshing teens in with adults would be a gross understatement. Maron accomplishes this with ease, and so seamlessly that you forget there are younger people mixed in with older cast members. She is clearly showing them that they have to take this seriously, and it is clear that they do. This is not an easy show to put on between the big musical numbers and, of course, the accents. I checked the production staff list and saw that a dialect coach wasn’t listed, so I can only assume this was handled by Maron as well. Job well done!
What I really loved about this production was what it stood for. This was a show that had not children, but some people on stage who are under 20. Oftentimes it is difficult for younger people to get an opportunity to perform onstage, especially in such well-known shows. However, that is not the case at Academy. I love that these young performers are learning about their craft in such a wonderful environment. And these kids are being taught the correct way to do theater. They are in a nurturing environment, learning from seasoned theater veterans. You watch the ensemble, and you can see the future of theater in Michael Pion, Genesis Johnson and Maressa Maron.
If you need a good laugh and want to kick off your summer, you NEED to go online to the Academy Players website at www.academyplayersri.org to purchase tickets. The show runs until Jun 28.