From snazzy dance numbers to perfectly-timed farce, Theatre Northwest’s current production of the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is everything you want a theater piece to be. After a few not-quite-there shows, it seems the one-year-old professional company has now found a secure footing.
Filling up the Theatre on the Square stage last weekend with lush Mediterranean sets of marble balustrades and bougainvillea, TNW told the story of two rival con-men on the French Riviera with all the poise and panache of a big city company. Sets ran on and off smoothly, the orchestra was both excellent and unobtrusive, and a backdrop of projected images gave both atmosphere (olive-fringed sunsets) and irony (a moon rising at just the right moment.) The chorus segued in and out of cute costumes and suave choreography with professionalism.
But it was the cast of “Scoundrels” that really made this production glitter. At the helm were Aaron Lamb as the gray-haired lady-charmer Lawrence and Matthew Vail as the crude con-man Freddy. Lamb began rather detached and unfortunately extremely unsexy, but Vail brought a sparkling chirpiness to the irrepressible Freddy that electrified both Lamb and everyone else. An excellent comedian, Vail gave off sparks, singing “Good Big Stuff” like Fred Astaire on hip-hop overdrive.
Equally good was Eric Polani Jensen, playing Lawrence’s police sidekick Andre with a smooth wit and Inspector Clouseau accent. As he and Lawrence finagled their way through the fortunes of unsuspecting rich ladies, their victims included Muriel, the cheesy rich American played with engaging conviction and naivete by Casi Wilkerson, and Jolene, the pushy cowgirl in skinny jeans and red shirt, here played by Jenny McMurry with a gosh-dang spirit worthy of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Finally, Rachael Boyer provided the good-girl heroine Christine with a scrubbed innocence and powerful, spot-on vocals.
Interplaying with fine comedic timing, the cast wound their way through the conmen’s shenanigans as they go from mentor-student to arch rivals. Some hysterically funny scenes: Lawrence’s “brother” Ruprecht and his goldfish-eating, testicle-shaving mania; the quasi-Nazi yodeling song; the Germanic patter-song morphing into a well-danced salsa/tango from the chorus, shot through with Freddy’s wheelchair.
As farce layered onto farce, some of the shock gags – the f-word, the Jewish jokes – caught the Sunday audience by surprise, though the laughs did come. The miking was also a small issue, in that the chorus could have done with some to balance the principals.
But overall, Yazbek’s sassy, jazzy music was contagious, the singing really good, and the conmen increasingly dirty right up until the final, superb twist. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a riot, though and through – tell all your friends, and don’t miss it.
Theatre Northwest’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” plays at Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway, Tacoma, at 3 p.m. Feb. 27, 28, March 6 and 7; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, March 5 and 6. Tickets: $39/$29. 253-591-5894, www.broadwaycenter.org