Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Of all of the musicals that I saw in the first decade of the 21st Century, the one that brought the most smiles to my face was the 2005 David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Jeffrey Lane (book) comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Based on the popular film of the same name starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, seldom does a musical achieve such daffy joy while simultaneously being cunningly witty. The story of two con-men who scheme to steal an heiress’s fortune when she visits a resort town in the French Riviera has wicked humor, surprising plot twists, and a heaping helping of political incorrectness that make the show ribald and salacious fun.

The original Broadway cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was something to be awed by. John Lithgow, star of stage, screen and television, and a Tony winner for his performance based on Walter Winchell in Sweet Smell of Success, starred as Lawrence Jamison, the upscale ladies’ man who swindled wealthy widows out of their fortunes. Norbert Leo Butz played his protégé Freddy Benson, a small-time crook who is eager to up his game. Butz would win a Tony Award for his role, and would then go on to a second win for Catch Me If You Can. Sherie Rene Scott would play the heiress in question while Gregory Jbara (Tony-winner for Billy Elliott), Joanna Gleason (Tony-winner for Into the Woods), and Sara Gettelfinger would composed the hilarious supporting cast.

Yazbek’s score hearkens back to a time when melody was infectious and tuneful, lyrics could be winsome and corny (but and also brutally arch and viciously contemporary). The score has much to recommend with particular standouts to found in “Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True”, “Love Sneaks It”, “Here I Am”, and “Dirty Rotten Number” was particular standouts. Though it is harder to appreciate for traditionalists, “Great Big Stuff” with its rap rhythms and gangsta-style lyrics is a great “I want” song for Freddie. Really, there isn’t a stinker in the whole score. You can even revel in your junior high school immaturity with the song “All About Ruprecht”, a charming celebration of vulgarity and inappropriateness.

If you don’t believe me (or don’t remember), get out your original cast recording of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and celebrate the talent and the tunes of David Yazbek. You will thank me for the suggestion.

 Gregory Jbara and Joanna Gleason in  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels .

Gregory Jbara and Joanna Gleason in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

 Norbert Leo Butz, John Lithgow and Sherie Rene Scott in  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Norbert Leo Butz, John Lithgow and Sherie Rene Scott in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Here are some interesting facts about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:

  • The film on which the musical was based was inspired by another flick, Bedtime Story (1964) which starred Marlon Brando and David Niven.
  •  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on March 3, 2005.
  • The original Broadway production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opened to mixed reviews, but ran a respectable 625 performances.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was nominated for ten Tony Awards including Best Musical, but lost all but one. Norbert Leo Butz won for Best Actor in a Musical. It was a competitive year with Spamalot, The Light in the Piazza and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee also in contention.
  • Popular replacements in the show included Jonathan Pryce, Keith Carradine, Brian d’Arcey James, Lucie Arnaz, Rachel York, and Richard Kind. 
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