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Theatre Review (LA): Dirty Rotten Scoundrels by Lane and Yazbek at the NoHo Arts Center

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a delightful musical about conning among the rich and famous along the French Riviera, based on the popular 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. It was turned successfully into a musical directed by the incredible Jack O’Brien and starring John Lithgow and relative newcomer Norbert Leo Butz, who ended up getting the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in A Musical. The show itself was nominated for eleven Tony Awards. I saw the show on tour with Butz, who was brilliant, and Tom Hewett, whom I thoroughly enjoyed. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has a book by Jeffrey Lane with music and lyrics by David Yazbak.

I was interested to see how the show with its elaborate sets and split-second timing would fare in a 99-seat house. The results were definitely mixed.

The musical is being presented at NoHo Arts Center where the wandering troupe called Interact has found a temporary home. (A greedy landlord forced them out of their theatre several seasons back.) The company was wise to enlist the award-winning local director Richard Israel, who I think has set out to direct every musical that ever existed, since he never stops working. He has successfully managed to translate the action into the small space. Casting was more problematic, but then I had previously seen a brilliant production. The Michael Caine role goes here to Chip Phillips, who has a certain amount of sophistication but lacks the stature needed to pull off the role of this elegant con. His partner in crime, doing his best Norbert Leo Butz imitation, is Matt Wolpe. I suspect in time his performance will settle down, but as it is, he is very uneven and his gags work only about 60% of the time.

Nonetheless, the audience enjoyed themselves. The sharp musical direction is by Johanna Kent. The set design is by Rob Corn and Dove Huntley, the lighting by Carol Doehring, and the costumes by Meagan Evers. Richard Israel’s work only seems to get better and better.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will play at the NoHo Arts Center until March 21.

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