There are times we go to the theater just looking for an escape from the reality of the world around us- to just laugh and forget all about whether our team has a chance for the playoffs, if we will get that well deserved raise, or if the big sale will close next week. At a time like that, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” the latest production at Theatre at the Center in nearby Munster Indiana is the perfect escape. This inane little musical with a clever book by Jeffrey lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbek based on the movie of the same name ,came through Chicago a while back as part of The Broadway In Chicago series, but this particular production staged by William Pullinsi, a man who truly understands what a musical comedy should be, and with superb choreography by Stacey Flaster, we have a much more solid production, The story starts off a little slow, but under the careful eye of Pullinsi and Flaster, the tempo moves up and once it gets up, it never comes down again.
The story centers on two con men living or “working” the French Riviera. The older, more sophisticated Lawrence Jameson ( well played by the very suave Larry Wyatt) who makes his living by convincing wealthy women that his kingdom is involved in a war and needs weapons ,and a small time crook, Freddy Benson ( a charming character brought to life by the witty and comical Michael Mahler). Rumor has it that there is another con-man working the area and when Jameson meets Benson working his art on a woman during a train ride, he feels that this may be the competition he has heard about. Benson becomes the student and Jameson the mentor until they decide that there is no room for both of them and so they make a bet in which they will have to swindle Miss Christine Colgate ( the lovely Dara Cameron), the “soap queen” out of $50,000. The loser will leave town and the winner will stay.
There are some delightful twists to the story as each of them works their tricks and ploys to win the wager. There are double crosses and some strange twists leading to a surprise ending that is as charming and delightful as one can hope for. The sub-plot involves Andre Thibault ( the always reliable Larry Adams), Jameson’s right hand man and his meeting up with Muriel, a widow from Omaha, who is one of the swindled ladies in Jameson’s life ( played with a special comic touch by Chicago veteran Paula Scrofano, who can play any role and make it effective. She is a hoot and their scenes in the second act alone are worth the price of the ticket)as they fall in love.
There are no memorable songs in this show; in fact, nothing even hummable, but who cares ! There is a fun story, great acting and some marvelous dance numbers ( thanks to Ms Flaster) with an energetic ensemble playing a mutitude of roles and dancing up a storm: Cara Salerno, Stephen Stockley,Lauren Creel, Megan Simmons,Bobby Johnson,Robert Deason, Alex McCrary and Jenny Guse- these performers change costumes , wigs and characters so fast you will not believe your eyes. Ms. Creel is also very funny as Jolene, one of Jameson’s amours that almost traps him into an unwanted wedding vow. As I always say , a solid ensemble is one of the keys to a musical comedy working its magic in taking us away from the world around us and planting our minds and hearts into wherever the playwright and director want us to be. This ensemble makes that happen, so bravo! Keep doing your stuff!
The musical director for “Scoundrels” is William A. Underwood and the set by Christopher Ash is one of great flexability with quick movement on and off to avoid long scene changes ( during the longer ones, we are treated to some wonderful dance numbers that take our eyes and mind off the set being switched). Brenda Winstead’s costumes are very “Broadway” and Kevin Barthel has done quite a job with the wigs.
Theatre at the Center is celebrating 20 years in Munster and this is their 100th production. Who would have thought that a regional theater would have taken “hold” in Munster? Well it did! And under the guidance of William Pullinsi and his able staff it has become a “destination theater”, one that people want to go to- not just because it is nearby, but because it is affordable theater of the high quality Chiacgo audiences demand and they put together a mixed menu of productions so audiences can get a good variety of theater. classics and new. It was a treat to see Pullinsi honored by the City Board prior to the start of the show. He has been a major contributor to the Chicago regional theater scene for many years and I for one am glad to see him noted for what he has brought to the “arena” ( a little play on words for the “theater crowd”)
Take the ride to Munster and take in this lovely little musical. It will continue at Theatre at the Center through October 10th with performances as follows:
Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
There are some select Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays ta 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range frm $36-$40, a bargain for theater this good and plenty of free parking.
To order your tickets call 219-836-3255 or Tickets.com at 800-511-1552 or visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com
Theatre at the Center is located at 1040 Ridge Road in Munster. Take the Dan Ryan into I-80/94, exit 41South to Ridge road, turn east ( left) and pass the Dairy Queen ( if you can) and it will be another 150 yards on the right. It’s a nice ride and a show worth seeing.