They call it musical comedy, but few shows are actually laugh-out-loud funny. One exception is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the tale of a couple of unscrupulous con men out to fleece rich women on the French Riviera.
It earns its audience guffaws thanks to the unexpected lyrics of composer David Yazbek — who else would come up with the almost-rhyme of “castle” and “asshole”? — and Jeffrey Lane’s daffy adaptation of the popular 1988 Michael Caine-Steve Martin movie.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was never intended to open the $36 million renovation and expansion of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. But due to inevitable construction delays that has made hash of the company’s season, it has become the selection with the added pressure of welcoming back its audience after two years of being shuttered.
If that time span has left you forgetting the skill, talent and production values that the Maltz lavishes on its musicals, Scoundrels will bring it all back. Under the laser-sharp direction of Mark Martino, whose 12 seasons at the Maltz have included such Carbonell Award-winning shows as Crazy for You, The Music Man and Les Miserables, a company of 20 scampers about countless flying and rolling set pieces designed by Dan Kuchar, accompanied by a swinging nine-piece orchestra led by Eric Alsford.
At the show’s core is flim-flamming crook Lawrence Jamison (David Engel) and his henchman, Andre (John Scherer), who happens to be the chief of police of sunny Beaumont-sur-Mer. Their con usually involves Jamison posing as a destitute prince whose royal realm faces an existential threat unless he can get a quick infusion of cash. It might have worked in perpetuity if a penny-ante grifter, Freddy Benson (Lukas Poost), hadn’t arrived on the scene and tried to muscle in on Jamison’s territory. Instead, they team up and ultimately wager on who can best bamboozle seemingly gullible Christina Colgate (Julie Kavanagh), the soap heiress.
If you know the movie, you know there are plenty of plot twists beyond that basic narrative. The show follows the movie fairly faithfully, with the addition of a romantic subplot between Andre and Muriel Eubanks (Kirsten Wyatt), an Omaha pigeon.
Once Lawrence teams up with Freddy, he mostly plays straight man to his partner’s comic alter egos — Lawrence’s younger brother with a missing chromosome and a wheelchair-bound army officer with an emotional disability. In retaliation, Lawrence takes on the guise of a Viennese doctor, Emil Shuffhausen, noted for his tough love cures.
Engel anchors the cast as debonair Lawrence, who ultimately has a soft heart for his latest victim. But it is Poost who steals the show as Freddy, his hapless foil. The women each get a few spotlight moments, most notably Kavanagh’s Christina. Still, as a lesser mark, Jen Cody lights up the stage with her every entrance as Jolene, a bubbly Oklahoma oil heiress.
Costume designer Leon Dobkowski’s previous assignment at the Maltz was How to Succeed in Business…, the hard-luck production that was closed before it opened at the beginning of the pandemic. This time he provides lots of snazzy formalwear, hotel uniforms and resort duds. And the tireless Kirk Bookman lights it all, ranging from gleaming sunshine to moody moon glow.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — like The Producers — has little trouble getting the audience on the side of a couple of shady characters. And director Martino and his cast and crew squeeze every laugh from the script, just like we have long come to expect from the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Through Sunday, April 10. $66-$120. 561-575-2223, or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.