By Bridgette M. Redman
I’d like to file a complaint against Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse.
I went to their opening night performance of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and discovered that they’re simply not following the rules. Hasn’t anyone told them that musicals — even comedic ones — are supposed to take themselves seriously? They must be “art” and have meaning. What are they thinking by putting on a show that so clearly entertains their audience with outright fun and hilarity?
Granted, they had good material. Two con men in the French Riviera compete to see who can be the first to swindle $50,000 out of a charming young woman from the States. Based on the movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, the musical takes the popular comedy to a whole new level of farce with its addition of bitingly droll songs and “big ass” dance numbers. It is self-consciously a stage play in which the fourth wall is festooned with bay windows for the actors to gleefully scramble in and out of.
The script does have its moments of quaintness. After all, aren’t musicals supposed to be either a Mamet-style orgy of vulgarity with the shock value of an “Avenue Q” or “Spring Awakening” or completely prim, proper and politely titillating as “Legally Blonde”? Instead, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” trots along with elevated language and suave manners before ambushing its audience with references to shaved testicles for Christmas and lurid descriptions of a sex-filled tryst.
Mason Street Warehouse ought to be accused of conspicuous consumption in the style of its lead’s con man, Lawrence Jameson. How can they be so oblivious to the economic climate? An 18-person show with five Equity actors? How are other theaters supposed to keep their audiences content when Mason Street Warehouse is offering such a huge, expensive musical with production values that would make their Chicago neighbors blush? Given the solid performances from each and every member of the company, one suspects that Mason Street Warehouse has snatched up the best talent the profession has to offer. Even their interns performed to perfection.
The trio of Bernie Yvon (Lawrence Jameson, the experienced con man who works the Riviera as the usurped Prince of an unpronounceable nation), John Plumpis (Andre Thibault, the serious Frenchman who is Jameson’s assistant), and Billy Konsoer (Freddy Benson, the crude American who wants to learn the con game from Jameson), must have been blackmailed into their performances. Where was the scene stealing? With roles that so tempt an actor into hogging the stage, what must director and choreographer Kurt Stamm have on them to make them perform in such an impeccably talented fashion where they each gave far more than they took.
It gets even worse when Kristy Cates joins them as their dupe, Christine Colgate. Did no one tell her that as lead actress she gets to be prima donna? Someone must have forgot to clue any of them in, as the leads imitated a seamless ensemble where each of the four gave the other every cue, look and intonation to make sparks fly and provide a constant laugh track from the audience.
And Beth Glover who played Muriel Eubanks, the persistent pigeon who kept begging to be further conned? Doesn’t she know that a role like hers is designed for chewing up the scenery? Is she oblivious to the enticement of playing that role over-the-top? After all, what use is comic relief if you’re not mugging to the audience? Is she flaunting her professionalism and talent in our faces by underplaying the comedic lines with a subtlety that left me muttering, “Damn, she’s good.”
Then there was the moment where order was about to return to the world of live musicals as a prop went unexpectedly flying off the stage. Konsoer showed signs of breaking. Cates did break out in a grin, and we were finally going to see a flaw in the acting. But Yvon blew it with an aplomb that went straight out to the audience in perfect keeping with the show’s style. He even earned spontaneous applause from the delighted audience — which he acknowledged with a nod and a deprecating wink of a grin.
The performers even rolled well with the sound problems — the mikes that didn’t always come on quickly enough or the sound cues that lagged behind the motions they were supposed to match — adjusting to them and quickly drawing attention from them.
Lighting designer Jennifer Kules must have had to design her own plot book as the standard form couldn’t possibly hold all the special effects provided at the literal snap of a finger. If they weren’t all spot on opening night, the few blinks were lost in the overall panorama.
Where was the producer demanding that costume designer Darlene Christopher cut corners? Someone surely told that costumer that she should rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief rather than provide constant full costume changes for every member of the ensemble that ranged from the gorgeously flamingo-colored ball gowns of the first scene to Western hoe-down garb to flying nuns.
I’m sure musical director Patrick Coyle will have his colleagues tut-tutting at him over drinks. He had the numbers and talents to easily drown out the singers on stage. What was he doing showing such restraint and balance? He even gave the characters what they asked for from the stage! And surely the musician alternating between the flute, clarinet and a screaming saxophone had far too much talent to be performing anywhere other than a concert hall.
Stamm was also far too deft in balancing the debonair with the crude and the swing between the charming, upper-crust affectation of innuendo with the blatant sexual depictions of a candlestick shoved down the pants and the formerly stiff Thibault running across the stage half-dressed with handcuffs and champagne.
I suppose I can’t blame the theater for this one, but what are they thinking in attracting such a congenial crowd? Don’t they know that they are the elite? They’re art appreciators — they’re supposed to be snobby, not friendly, good-natured, and pleasant. It’s almost as if they think they’re in a resort town.
Finally, if a musical is going to last for three hours, it is supposed to leave the audience feeling exhausted, uncomfortable and eager to get home, not exhilarated, clamoring for more and hoping for an encore.
So what deviltry do I charge Mason Street Warehouse with? Physical and emotional damage — I laughed so hard that my side aches, my throat hurts and I feel the onset of a headache from lack of oxygen. And what of my reputation? Not only did I enthusiastically join in a standing O for a show that was orgasmicly good, but in the gas station on the way home, the attendant likely mistook me for drunk as I was still so giddy from over-imbibing on the high-octane Mason Street Warehouse performance.
Those dirty, rotten scoundrels!
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’
Mason Street Warehouse, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck. Tuesday-Sunday though July 18. $26-$39.75. 269-857-4898. http://www.masonstreetwarehouse.org