Adapted from the hit 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” the musical looks and feels an awful lot like “The Producers” — another story where a veteran con man and a promising rookie scheme together and end up forming a lasting friendship. And as with “The Producers,” the strength of this production rides on the contentious chemistry between its two leading men.
Fortunately, Riverwalk’s leading men have great chemistry. Bob Purosky plays veteran con man Lawrence Jameson, a successful and sophisticated criminal feeding off of the rich women on the French Riviera. Riverwalk newcomer Brian Farnham plays Freddy Benson, a talented yet unrefined con man who stumbles onto Jameson’s game. The pair agree to a wager to see who can steal $50,000 from leggy dame Christine Colgate (Laura Croff) first.
Without imitating their silver screen counterparts, Purosky and Farnham imbue their stage chemistry with comic crackle. In the song “All About Ruprecht,” Benson plays the role of Ruprecht, the deformed product of aristocratic inbreeding, to help Jameson out of a jam. Farnham’s performance here is zany, creepy and inspired — and perfectly balanced by Purosky’s deadpan expressions.
Playing the duo’s “mark,” Croff brings her trademark daffy delivery to Christine, while still keeping a straight face on her clumsy character. Croff mines laughs with minimal effort, offering comically appropriate looks or stares. She also plays well off the two leads, particularly on the second act power ballad, “Love Is My Legs,” opposite Farnham.
Other supporting characters include Colleen Bethea as wealthy widower Muriel Eubanks, James Geer as Jameson’s assistant Andre Thibault and Kaitlin Torphy as Oklahoma oil baroness Jolene. Each character gets a song or a moment to generate laughs, but their subplots — especially Muriel and Andre’s — often pad, rather than enhance, the main plot.
The strongest technical element by far is the choreography. Choreographer Michael Chan also performs in the ensemble. Blending ballroom styles with modern Broadway kicks, each dance number looks challenging yet tight. Chan clearly pushes the cast but works appropriately within their limits.
One disappointment is the lack of a live orchestra. Angie Schwab is credited as the music director, but it’s clear that the full orchestra blasting through the speakers is not sitting in the room. But to director Mary K. Hodges-Nees’ credit, the canned music doesn’t detract from the performances. If anything, it serves as a nice “click-track” that keeps the entire production moving along smoothly.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”
Riverwalk Theatre 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17; 8 p.m. Friday, September 18 and Saturday, Sept. 19; 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20 $22/$20 seniors, students and military Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com