Perry Ojeda and Brent Barrett in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(© Kathleen Fahley)
Perry Ojeda and Brent Barrett in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(© Kathleen Fahley)
Watching the Cape Playhouse cobble together a musical in just two weeks is like seeing a magician pull a fast one: How is it possible to muster such fine production values, not mention superlative performances, on so stringent a schedule? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, enjoying its first regional production here under Mark Martino's sure-handed direction, is a perfect example of what this 81-year-old institution does so brilliantly. It also augurs well for the imminent small-stage dissemination of this 2005 Broadway hit by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane.

The Playhouse is lucky to have a consummate pro like Brent Barrett playing continental smoothie Lawrence Jameson. Barrett gets to use every demisemiquaver of his marvelous voice -- along with a panoply of accents -- in songs both comic ("All About Ruprecht,') and tender ("Love Sneaks In"). The fact that he's faint-worthy handsome also makes it realistic that a sentient woman like Muriel Eubanks of Omaha (the mellifluous, funny Dee Hoty) would fall for this "prance" among men, even if it means she ends up one gull among many.

Barrett is nicely matched by Perry Ojeda as Jameson's uncouth emulator, Freddy Benson, who gives us a street punk's swagger. Outsize as the character is, he trusts the material and never overreaches. The high point of the show arrives all too soon: it's tough to top the scene in which the two men come up with the idea of having Benson play the chromosomally impaired "Ruprecht" to scare off Jameson's self-appointed fiancee, Jolene, a pushy Oklahoma princess played to pistol-packing perfection by Heather Parcells.

Lane's book, though tight and crammed with ribald business, is oddly structured. Muriel ultimately becomes a side character, paired off with Jameson's crooked-cop majordomo (John Scherer, who, with his shaky Gallic accent, never achieves comedic lift-off: he comes across as an off-duty accountant). During the second half, the focus shifts to another female casualty, Christine Colgate of Cincinnati, to whom Stephanie Youell lends insufficient corn-fed credibility. But really, all the male-female love stuff is a side issue here, played against the Pygmalion-style relationship between the two male leads.

Thanks also in part to Dan Kuchar's adaptable, suggestible set and an enthusiastic corps of dancers whose crack moves come from Denis Jones, this small-stage rendition of Scoundrels delivers surprisingly big entertainment.