Norbert Leo Butz and Tom Hewitt
in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(© Chris Bennion)
Norbert Leo Butz and Tom Hewitt
in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(© Chris Bennion)
Upon seeing the national tour of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the hit Broadway musical which is now at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, one can only conclude that Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz must have had his blood replaced by Red Bull. As the vulgar con artist Freddy Benson, the energetic Butz is like an orangutan unabashedly throwing pieces of banana all over the stage. It's the kind of brash performance that audiences adore; Butz's first big number, "Great Big Stuff," was greeted with thunderous applause.

Not everything else about this touring production -- directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, as was the Broadway original -- is quite as successful. The strong-voiced Tom Hewitt as Freddy's partner-in-crime, Lawrence Jameson, lacks any real chemistry with Butz, not to mention the needed charisma of his Broadway predecessors John Lithgow and Jonathan Pryce. On the plus side, female co-stars Laura Marie Duncan and Hollis Resnik are dynamite, so much so that they almost succeed in stealing this entertaining, lightweight show.

The musical is based on two movies: the 1960s comedy Bedtime Story, with Marlon Brando and David Niven, and its elegantly crude remake Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. The plot follows the unlikely teaming of Freddy and Lawrence after the former threatens to expose the latter's handiwork to the residents of the town on the French Riviera in which he's doing his stuff. At first, the two con men work together, taking Jolene Oakes (Jennifer Foote), a wacky Oklahoma heiress who wants to marry Lawrence, for a ride she'll never forget. But their egos get in the way of their partnership, and they decide to compete for the money of Christine Colgate (Duncan), a seemingly ditzy American heiress who's vacationing in France. In the end, love becomes the ultimate con game.

Jeffrey Lane's delicious book for DRS largely follows the 1988 film. The biggest change is that the character of Muriel Eubanks (Resnik), a wealthy widow from Omaha, has been expanded. Instead of merely being a rich airhead, she is motivated by her aching loneliness to let herself be conned. Also enhanced is Lawrence's reason for taking on Freddy as his partner; the blackmail scheme still exists, but we further see that Lawrence is somewhat bored with life before Freddy enters the picture and rathers enjoys playing Pygmalion to this younger, goofier version of himself.

David Yazbek's score is enjoyable but wlll probably not remain in many people's memories once they leave the theater. Other than "Great Big Stuff," the best song is Muriel's Act I lament, "What Was A Woman To Do." Yazbek also has fun spoofing Burt Bacharach in "The More We Dance," and he takes on the 1980s in the rock-styled ballad "Love Is My Legs." However, most of the songs could easily be removed without affecting the plot, and some of them bring the story to an unneccessary if pleasurable halt.

Fortunately, there are wonderful people on stage to sing even the weakest material. Duncan is vibrant as the daffy heiress. With her huge, expressive eyes, a wall of sparkly teeth, and a voice that can bring down the house -- especially in her big ballad, "Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True" -- she displays a homespun American charm. Resnik is also delightful, tapping into Muriel's isolation and then her wild abandonment once she falls for the local police chief, played by Drew McVety. You never feel sorry for Muriel, since what she wins is worth so much more than the mere jewels she loses. She has fun, and so will most everyone who sees Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.