You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz are the new "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at the Old Globe. A world premiere, pre-Broadway tryout, tuner supplies entertaining and occasionally inspired moments. But the show, given its subject, has a lightweight quality.

Andre Thibault - Gregory Jbara Lawrence Jameson - John Lithgow Muriel Eubanks - Joanna Gleason Freddy Benson - Norbert Leo Butz Jolene Oakes - Sara Gettelfinger Christine Colgate - Sherie Rene Scott

John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz are the new “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Old Globe, taking over the con games played by suave Michael Caine and sly Steve Martin in the 1988 film of the same name. A world premiere, pre-Broadway tryout, tuner supplies entertaining and occasionally inspired moments. But the show, given its subject, has a lightweight quality. It lacks a tough-enough, diamond-hard edge. Lithgow, an accomplished comedian, and Butz, who possesses formidable acting and singing chops, lean too much toward lovability, and frequently seem so inept that it’s difficult to believe any reasonably sane woman would look favorably on their harebrained schemes.

Lithgow plays Lawrence Jameson, a British con artist, and he’s smoothly amusing at first, masquerading as a deposed prince who needs money for his war-torn country and worming funds out of the gullible Muriel Eubanks of Omaha (Joanna Gleason). The show remains on track when he meets Freddy (Norbert Leo Butz) on a train and overhears the brash American manipulator duping a female passenger into feeding him. Freddy doesn’t know Lawrence is a con artist until Muriel inadvertently tips him off to Lawrence’s true vocation.

Wised up, the young hustler invades Lawrence’s French Riviera villa and pressures the master into teaching him the tricks of the trade. Lawrence reluctantly agrees, pronouncing Freddy “so deliciously low” in a spoof of Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady” and urging the interloper to know his limitations (“You’re a moron”).

Some of the story’s most promising episodes go off the rails. To escape the clutches of Jolene (Sara Gettelfinger), an heiress from Oklahoma, Lawrence exposes her to his bogus half-witted brother Ruprecht (Butz again). But this potentially uproarious sequence is so drawn out and broadly played that it falls flat.

David Yazbek’s music is short on specific flavor and generally is used to support his comedic lyrics. His words, which deliberately twist lines like pretzels, are effective in numbers such as “Ruffhousin’ mit Schuffhausen,” and “Love Is My Legs,” a spoof of conventional love songs dealing with Freddy’s ecstasy after he pretends to be wheelchair-bound to win the sympathy of American soap queen Christine Colgate (Sherie Rene Scott).

Some of Yazbek’s titles are awkward (“Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True”) and one ballad, “Love Sneaks In,” is a slack note that easily could be eliminated. Overall, however, his songs have a refreshing, enjoyable bounce.

Lithgow benefits from his towering height and undeniable presence, but director Jack O’Brien lets him get away with too much mugging, which dissipates any illusion of character validity. He appears uncomfortable in dancing routines, despite some elegance.

Although no con man has ever been as abrasive a klutz as Butz — he grabs breasts and talks of milkshake enemas — his wild portrayal has a lunatic grandeur. He’s at his best belting out “Great Big Stuff,” an oily ode to self-adoration, and his agonized expression when Lithgow, as a phony German medical specialist, smashes his supposedly paralyzed legs, is memorably funny.

Since the main situations lumber more than levitate, room is left for two supporting actors to run away with the show. Gleason brings cockeyed honesty and feeling to her role as Muriel of Omaha, and Gregory Jbara, playing a corrupt police chief reminiscent of Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” is a perfect counterpart. When they dance, there’s genuine communication between them — aided by Jerry Mitchell’s choreography — and a sense of letdown ensues after the plot sets them aside and returns to its slapstick roots.

Scott’s soap queen, introduced too late into the story, is a fine singer and comic, and O’Brien’s direction properly spotlights the empty-headed naivete that disguises her nefarious goals. David Rockwell’s scenic design puts her in a pink bedroom with fuchsia bedspread, immersing her in such gaudy colors that it’s a miracle she emerges distinct above the decor.

The overall unevenness of tone is summed up when Lithgow says, “I never take advantage of the poor and virtuous,” a surprise since his Lawrence has never expressed any scruples. What we need to see is some good, old-fashioned villainy.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Old Globe, San Diego; 612 seats; $75 top

Production: An Old Globe presentation of a musical in two acts with and music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Jeffrey Lane. Based on the film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," written by Dale Launer and Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning, by special arrangement with Dirty Rotten Producers in association with MGM OnStage. Directed by Jack O'Brien. Musical direction by Ted Sperling.

Creative: Choreography, Jerry Mitchell. Sets, David Rockwell; lighting, Kenneth Posner; costumes, Gregg Barnes; sound, Acme Sound Partners; stage manager, Michael Brunner. Opened and reviewed Sept. 22, 2004; runs through Oct. 31. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.

Cast: Andre Thibault - Gregory Jbara Lawrence Jameson - John Lithgow Muriel Eubanks - Joanna Gleason Freddy Benson - Norbert Leo Butz Jolene Oakes - Sara Gettelfinger Christine Colgate - Sherie Rene ScottWith: Timothy J. Alex, Andrew Asnes, Roxane Barlow, Joe Cassidy, Julie Connors, Rachel deBenedet, Laura Marie Duncan, Sally Mae Dunn, Rick Faugno, Tom Galantich, Jason Gillman, Amy Heggins, Grasan Kingsberry, Rachelle Rak, Tony Yazbeck.

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content