For years, Kent Knutson staged big summer musicals at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. This dovetailed nicely with his day job as director of theater at Minnetonka High School, where he often staged big musicals (along with other shows).
Since taking over as artistic director at the Old Log Theater in 2013, Knutson’s track record with a variety of plays has been mixed. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” now running at the playhouse in suburban Greenwood, plays back into Knutson’s strength. With Regina Peluso’s crisp choreography and Raymond Berg’s rock-solid musical direction, Knutson has fashioned a fine piece of entertainment.
“Scoundrels” blew onto Broadway in 2005, adapted from the film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
It is a shameless piffle and writer Jeffrey Lane and composer/lyricist David Yazbek make no apologies for that. In fact, that snark is intended to be part of the fun. Actors step out for asides to the audience (“Wait, didn’t we already do this scene?”). Or the satire fills the sensibility of the action, such as the florid bedroom ballad between Freddy and Christine.
And who are Freddy and Christine? Two of the three straws that stir this frothy confection. Freddy (Eric Morris) is a loose-limbed con man who has invaded the French Riviera territory of old-school con man Lawrence Jameson (Peter Moore). Jameson fleeces filthy-rich matrons vacationing along the coast. Complicit in his grift is the chief of police (James Michael Detmar).
The town is not big enough for both Larry and Freddy, so when an American “soap queen” arrives in the form of Christine (Kaylyn Forkey), the two cons strike a bargain. Whichever can separate $50,000 from this pigeon gets to stay. The other hits the road.
Moore dips into the suave charm of a latter-day Ronald Colman as Lawrence, standing easily at the show’s center. He sells a song, rather than singing it, which works even better, for this is a roué in the business of selling his own con game.
Morris aims, correctly, for a crass American vibe but he goes too jangly in his performance. There is an art to being a doofus and Morris is shy of the requirement. Forkey is a bubble of guileless charm with a supple soprano voice.
Perhaps more interesting than all these, however, is Jen Burleigh-Bentz as Muriel, one of Jameson’s early marks. Burleigh-Bentz has a dusty droll affect, insouciant, self-aware and unaware at the same time. Burleigh-Bentz’s singing acumen is a given, but the fun she has with this character makes her a delight. She and Detmar share a winning highlight in “Like Zis/Like Zat.”
Peluso has brought along several dancers from her troupe COLLIDE Theatrical, which accounts for the precision of the ensemble. Peluso achieves a classic look that appears to be perfectly timed with Berg’s orchestra. Erik Paulson creates elegant staircases and balconies that help the action flow relatively seamlessly.
Knutson has assembled these pieces with a sharp eye. He understands balance and pace and gives his actors room to play. As Moore’s Lawrence croons in the show’s central song, Knutson gives us what we want.