reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Actors Theatre of Indiana opens their 15th Anniversary Season with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – a musical play with book by Jeffrey Lane and music & lyrics by David Yazbek. The 2004 Broadway production was based on the original 1988 film which had no songs, and which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the two leading roles.

Set in the French Riviera, the story revolves around the doings of two men who make their livings by jilting unsuspecting targets (mostly female) of their wealth, jewels and, sometimes, their emotions. We first meet the well practiced high-end swindler Lawrence Jameson, played here with much polish by TJ Lancaster. Jameson has built quite a nice life out of his smooth and diverse skills – charming, then financially harming his victims. Along comes a relative newcomer – the very unpolished Freddy Benson, offered in a highly energetic portrayal by ATI first-timer Tony Carter.

Swindler Laurence Jameson (TJ Lancaster) with cohort Andre Thibault (Don Farrell) in a scene from ATI’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Their sudden connection sends the story along, first with a “My Fair Lady” moment when Jameson accepts a challenge to teach Benson his refined practices and thereby lift him up. Enter the naive young Christine Colgate, performed here by striking ATI newcomer, Deborah Mae Hill. Noting this fresh target from small-town USA, the two scoundrels come up with a challenge to out-scam each other’s efforts with this new victim and that’s when the fun begins.

All three leads do wonderful work here. Lancaster and Carter are polar opposites in style and conveyance, which is perfect for their opposing characters. Ms. Hill is vocally-gifted and totally convincing as a wide-eyed, innocent. The surprise which the audience receives later is well set-up, indeed.

Muriel Eubanks (Judy Fitzgerald) meets novice swindler Freddy Benson (Tony Carter) in a scene from ATI’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

While the three lead actors do much of the heavy lifting here, with admirable results, there are a handful of secondary roles that deserve mention. Sabra Michelle comes on strong as Oklahoma visitor Jolene Oakes. Ms. Michelle fills the stage with her loud and feisty performance and does good supporting work as an ensemble member, as well.

Christine Colgate (Deborah Mae Hill) ponders her circumstance in a scene from ATI’s production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Perhaps even more cogent are the plot angles shared by ATI co-founders, Don Farrell, as Jameson cohort, Andre Thibault, and Judy Fitzgerald, who plays overly willing victim, Muriel Eubanks. Their shared times on stage are some of the true highlights of the production – comic moments that show these two old friends at their finest abilities. The remaining members of the cast – ensemble dance performers Annalee Traeger, Brynn Tyszka, Tim Hunt and Michael Corey Hassel – play what seems like a hundred additional roles with sparkle and precision.

Jolene Oakes (Sabra Michelle) joins Laurence Jameson (TJ Lancaster) and the dance ensemble in a scene from ATI’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

Michael Blatt, who directed one of my all time ATI favorite shows, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, returns to lead the way on this production. Nathan Perry takes the reins musically and he and his small orchestra provide a noteworthy addition. Carol Worcel provides interesting and unique combinations of choreography. The dynamic set by designer P. Bernard Killian, lit by Erin Meyer, was augmented by the many varied costumes from Stephen Hollenbeck.

Bottomline: Taking nothing away from the heap of top-notch performances here – the material itself is not amongst my favorites. The show is very tuneful – that is, Full Of Tunes – more than most shows, I believe. But none of them remained in my head at the end. Plus, the story goes a very long way (145 minutes, with intermission) for what is a very nice payoff punch at the end. Even then however, the authors felt they needed to go just a bit further to prolong the event for some reason. It surprises me that the show was not cut down in its Broadway days – but, as always – all this is merely my opinion.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through Sept 29th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging on at .

  • photos by Ed Stewart