Actors Theatre of Indiana has a penchant for presenting farcical comedies and it rarely disappoints. ATI’s current offering, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” is yet another example of its expertise at tickling the funny bone. The musical, which I saw Sunday, runs through Sept. 29 at The Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
With a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbek, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” premiered on Broadway in 2005 and is based on the 1988 film of the same title, starring Steve Martin, Michael Caine and Glenne Headly.
The setting for the story is a coastal town on the French Riviera, where con man Lawrence Jamieson (TJ Lancaster) rests on his laurels, having spent years bilking unsuspecting wealthy women out of their fortunes. Showing up in his territory to threaten his efforts is boorish grifter Freddy Benson (Tony Carter), who Jamieson decides needs to go because the town is too small for the both of them. Confident he will be the victor, Jamieson challenges his low life rival to a winner-take-all contest: Whoever successfully scams his latest victim can stay, while the other must get out of town.
High praise goes to director Michael Blatt, who did an exceptional job of guiding his ten-member cast in this streamlined version. Typically, the musical has a much larger ensemble, but in this production, it features five actors playing multiple roles. Worthy of note, they include Sabra Michelle, Annalee Traeger, Brynn Tyszka Lucas, Tim Hunt and Michael Hassel, all of whom deserve kudos for the yeoman job they did of not only frequently switching characters and quickly changing costumes, but also moving furniture and props between scenes.
Superior comedic actors all were the leads, which included Lancaster, Deborah Mae Hill as kind-hearted soap-opera star Christine Colgate, who is more than meets the eye, ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald as well-to-do con victim Muriel Eubanks, and ATI co-founder Don Farrell as Jamieson’s “bodyguard” accomplice.
Because it’s used to excess in reviews, I am reluctant to employ the term “tour de force” to describe Carter’s dazzling performance as Benson, but I can’t think of a more appropriate or more deserving characterization. In the tradition of great physical comedians such as Donald O’Connor, Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey, funnyman Carter, a Chicago-based actor, was a fearless, whirling dervish without inhibition, never running out of sight gags or slapstick in his wacky portrayal of the charming, yet unscrupulous, swindler Freddy. It’s a credit to his fellow actors who were able to keep a straight face and not break into laughter at his hilarious antics.
Notable for its clever lyrics, the score is less than memorable. Nevertheless, led by music director Nathan Perry, it did manage to showcase the accomplished vocal talents of the cast.
Affording the cast an opportunity to display their dancing skills and considerable showmanship was the sparkling choreography of Carol Worcel.
Finally, P. Bernard Killian’s appealing set, Stephen Hollenbeck’s gorgeous costumes, Andrew Elliot’s high-quality wigs, Amanda Pagan-Pecora’s props, Erin Meyer’s lighting design and Zach Rosing’s sound design all contributed to a production that gleamed with savoir faire.
For tickets and information about “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” call (317) 843-3800 or visit thecenterpresents.org.