Norbet Leo Butz and Jonathan Prycein Dirty Rotten Scoundrels(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Norbet Leo Butz and Jonathan Pryce
in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
In showbiz, timing is everything -- and I don't just mean great comic timing, of which there is an abundance on display in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. With a terrific score by David Yazbek, crackerjack direction by Jack O'Brien, and stylish choreography by Jerry Mitchell, DRS is one of the most enjoyable musicals ever to hit Broadway, yet it has been somewhat overshadowed because it opened in a season that also brought us The Light in the Piazza, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Monty Python's Spamalot. For this reason, the show didn't score as well in the Tony Awards race as it would have done in another season -- much as The Full Monty, the previous Yazbek-O'Brien-Mitchell musical, was trounced by The Producers in 2001. (Can you imagine how many awards Dirty Rotten might have captured if it had opened during the 1999-2000 season, when its competition would have been Contact, James Joyce's The Dead, Swing, and The Wild Party? Or the previous season, when it would have been up against Fosse, The Civil War, It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, and Parade? Life just ain't fair, is it?)

At any rate, DRS is still going strong at the Imperial Theatre, and it has recently been sparked by stellar replacements in three of the leading roles. Jonathan Pryce, one of the finest actors of our generation but not primarily known for this type of comedy, is terrific as con man Lawrence Jameson. He underplays much of the role -- perhaps a bit too much in the first few scenes, which are the show's weakest to begin with. But this only makes it all the more hilarious when, later on, he adopts ridiculous foreign accents and goes to other great lengths in his efforts to swindle various marks. (Shout-out to Jeffrey Lane for his expertly wrought, fall-down-funny book of the musical, based on the film of the same title and other antecedents.) Aside from his acting ability, Pryce possesses a lovely singing voice and puts across his songs to great effect, particularly the one straightforward ballad in the score: "Love Sneaks In."

The other newcomers to the cast are equally welcome. Rachel York is gorgeous beyond description as soap queen Christine Colgate; her singing is phenomenal, especially when she's belting high notes to the rafters; and her acting is so skillful that, even if you've seen the show before, the big plot twist in the penultimate scene may come as something of a shock. (York is only a temporary replacement for the fabulous Sherie Rene Scott, who's slated to return to DRS after her limited run in Landscape of the Body at Signature Theatre; but it's great that she's been handed the best Broadway role of her career thus far, even if only for a few months.) Mylinda Hull, for her part, is screamingly funny as the Oklahoma harridan Jolene Oakes. This character would probably be offensive to Oklahomans if it weren't so hysterically funny; Hull, a worthy successor to Sara Gettelfinger, plays Jolene with a dumb-as-a-fencepost smile and a snorting laugh that's dangerously infectious.

As for the continuing original cast members, they anchor the production with their comic brilliance and all-around excellence. Norbert Leo Butz, the only DRS nominee to have won a well-deserved Tony, is still a ball of fire as Freddy Benson, Jameson's sometime nemesis/sometime accomplice. His chemistry with Pryce is just as strong as it was with the original Jameson, John Lithgow. Gregory Jbara and Joanna Gleason remain thoroughly charming as André Thibault and Muriel Eubanks, scoring with the droll duet "Like Zis/Like Zat" and making the most of their roles' other opportunities.

A second (or third, or fourth) viewing of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels serves as a reminder that the work of scenic designer David Rockwell and costume designer Gregg Barnes is superb. Let it also be noted that this production boasts exemplary sound design by Acme Sound Partners -- quite a relief after having one's ears assaulted at The Color Purple or any number of other overamplified Broadway tuners.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is not a perfect musical. As indicated above, the tone of the show isn't firmly established until the first entrance of Butz as Freddy, about 10 or 15 minutes into the proceedings. Also, the intermission comes at a weird place; some of the secondary characters are not as well integrated with the action as they might have been; and, though Mitchell's choreography is smart and very well performed, the dance numbers do seem rather superfluous. Still, what's good about DRS is so good that these flaws scarcely seem to matter in the long run. If you haven't caught up with the show yet or would like to make a return visit, now's a great time to do so.