Mischief and glamor highlight OCT’s season opener
The cast rehearses a scene from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Ocala Civic Theatre on East Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala, Fla. on Monday, August 23, 2021. The musical will be live on stage at the Ocala Civic Theatre from August 26 – Sept. 19. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Theatergoers can expect a full-tilt farce with splashy numbers, kooky slapstick and sassy one-liners.
A deco-vintage stage design complements a vibrant cast and booming orchestra, emphasizing Katrina Ploof’s expert command as the director, and how as the community theater’s artistic director, she’s taking the company full steam ahead during an otherwise turbulent time.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels first hit the big screen in 1988 as a blockbuster comedy starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
A decade-and-a-half later, the script got the theatrical treatment as a musical, landing on Broadway with A-list actors John Lithgow and Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz as the lead con artists. The music and lyrics of David Yazbek and book by Jeffrey Lane keep in the same cheeky spirit of the film.
The play begins with a lavish ensemble number followed by veteran grifter Lawrence Jameson (James R. Taylor III), sauntering onstage with panache, bilking jewels from naive heiresses like Muriel Eubanks (Angie Brahim). The gent’s easy-breezy ride gets bumpy when younger novice, Freddy Benson (Jonathan Williams), muscles in on his turf.
Freddy covets Lawrence’s lavish life as a casino playboy and seeks to snatch the 24-karat pebble from Lawrence’s hand, but the elder conman is less interested in mentoring a buffoon. He would rather shoo away the obnoxious pest and placate him with a compromise: Whoever can swindle the “American soap queen,” Christine Colgate (the impeccable Megan Wager) can stick around, and the loser must leave. Lawrence’s droll assistant and sidekick, André Thibault (Alex Dagg), helps with the shenanigans. High jinks ensue, and the winner surprises everyone involved.
Ploof says that filling the shoes of heavyweights was one of her top priorities.
“When you are looking at a role that is written for someone as substantive as John Lithgow, or as free and spontaneous as Norbert Leo Butz, you’ve got the baseline of what those two artists are capable of,” she said.
About Taylor and Williams, she said she was lucky to find leads who could deliver the goods.
The leads, by the way, demonstrated their vocal chops to audiences at the end of last season in Million Dollar Quartet, which ran May 27-June 27 at OCT. Williams played Elvis Presley, and Taylor played Johnny Cash. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ music director, Philip King, played Jerry Lee Lewis, Scott Nadenik, who played Carl Perkins, plays guitar in the orchestra.
When asked how a theater with a much smaller budget could pull off a spectacle like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Ploof says that the script provides suggestions on what can be modified to make the staging work.
“I think I took advantage of maybe three out of a pretty long list of maybe 20,” Ploof shared. “We changed one minor scene ending because our scenic design does not involve a $2 million revolver and two stories on it.”
Costume Designer Eryn Brooks Brewer’s outfitted the women in the cast with stunning jewel-toned gowns and dresses circa the late 1940s to early 1960s. Her choices aligned seamlessly with the vintage aesthetic Ploof was after from the outset.
“When I talked to both the scenic and costume designers, I said, ‘We’re on the French Riviera. Let’s go look at To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant, and Grace Kelly. Let’s go look at Monaco. Let’s go look at that world and re-create it a little bit visually because it is just infinitely more attractive than 1988,’” Ploof recalled.
Indeed, the retro look will be enjoyed by movie lovers who feel nostalgia for the chic of the mid-20th century. Think old Bond films starring Sean Connery and Alain Delon in Purple Noon.
OCT’s theme last year centered on the feeling of home — something relatable during a pandemic.
“It was all plays that either took place in people’s real homes, where they were able to become their truest selves because of where the story took place,” she said.
This year shifts the dynamic.
“I thought, well, let’s travel, let’s go all over the world to contrast that. I sought plays about transformation about what going somewhere else can do to us,” Ploof said. “And so, in all of our plays this season, characters change. Something within the stories changes them and alters them in a real, fundamental way, not just a little tiny tweak, but a real basic inside-their-soul change. And that happens to Freddy, Lawrence and Christine. Through the telling of this story, they all change. They make a discovery about themselves that they didn’t know before.”