The second part of the phrase "musical comedy" has reasserted itself on Broadway. Serious tuners are taking a back seat to self-referencing gigglefests. The latest of these is "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," a wicked tale of two hustlers competing for a slice of the French Riviera. The creative team is largely the same as that of "The Full Monty," a sweet, character-driven show that underperformed at the box office considering its glowing reviews. This time out, the collaborators decided to just have fun -- and there's nothing wrong with that.
David Yazbek's lyrics are as clever as his music is rich, paying tribute to musical theatre tradition as well as admitting a hint of hip-hop. Jeffrey Lane's book is full of snappy quips. Jack O'Brien smoothly stages this romp, seamlessly integrating Jerry Mitchell's energetic dances with his own skilled direction. David Rockwell's sets are minimal yet suggest an elegant milieu, thanks to Kenneth Posner's artful lighting. Gregg Barnes' costumes deliver their own laughs and denote character.
Norbert Leo Butz has been teetering on the brink of stardom for several seasons now and "Scoundrels" finally pushes him over the edge. His devilish grin, unbridled sense of physical comedy, and strong singing are a perfect fit for Freddy, the cheeky younger crook. John Lithgow as his debonair rival is on equal footing, turning a disdainful sneer, a bemused chuckle, or a single line into a source of hilarity.
Sherie Rene Scott reveals another aspect of her talents as the na誰ve target of both con men. Like a young Gracie Allen, she takes obliviousness to heights of hilarity. Joanna Gleason is martini-dry as one of Lithgow's discarded conquests and Gregory Jbara oozes Continental charm as a corrupt French official. Sara Gettelfinger has a cheerfully vulgar cameo as a crass oil heiress.
With "Monty Python's Spamalot" soon to join "Scoundrels" on Broadway, outrageous humor will be the order of the day for many upcoming productions. Those auditioning should prepare for hilarity as well as high notes.
This review first appeared on Backstage.com on 3/7/05.