'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'

Georgetown theatre brings the con to Austin

Con air: Andrew Cannata and Joe Penrod
Con air: Andrew Cannata and Joe Penrod (Photo courtesy of Elaine Funk)

Okay, Austin, since you've yet to visit the Georgetown Palace Theatre, the Georgetown Palace Theatre is coming to you. Not the actual 1925 building by that name, but the community theatre group that calls the venue home, doing one of the big, splashy musicals for which it's earning an increasing amount of buzz. This week and next, the Georgetown Palace Theatre is bringing the singing con men of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, David Yazbeck and Jeffrey Lane's musical version of the 1988 film, to the State Theatre on Congress.

Palace Artistic Director Mary Ellen Butler says the idea of touring one of her theatre's shows to Austin has been in her head since she learned that 15-25% of its audience comes from the capital city. If theatregoing audiences here got just a taste of what the Palace does, she reasoned, even more of them would make the short drive to the refurbished movie house to the north and become regular Palace patrons. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Butler has a musical that has yet to be staged by an Austin theatre company – a potential draw here – but Butler liked the show for Austin mostly because she thought it one of the smartest scripts she'd ever read and because she'd taken special care to boost the production's quality. Butler lobbied her board for extra funds to secure professional choreographers and was able to hire Broadway and off-Broadway vets Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique. On top of that, the project lured Andrew Cannata, the young musical-theatre powerhouse from Zilker Theatre Productions' Footloose, Zach Theatre's Rent, and Penfold Theatre's I Love You Because and John & Jen, to play the wild, unscrupulous Freddy, a role that earned Norbert Leo Butz a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and a Drama League Award. Butler calls Cannata "totally fearless" and says he developed "a fantastic chemistry with Joe Penrod," the Palace regular who plays Lawrence, Freddy's quite literal partner-in-crime (and later competitor) in the scam trade.

The show's spring run in Georgetown was a smash, which made the choice to haul it down I-35 that much easier, but didn't solve the problem of where to put it. None of the venues similar to the Palace seemed quite right. Then, in a bit of welcome timing, the Austin Theatre Alliance brought the State back online after a hiatus of almost five years. The theatre seats 300, almost exactly the same size as the Palace, and its stage is within two feet of the size of the Palace's, making the fit ideal. The ATA was keen on presenting stage plays in the State again, so the Palace show will be the first theatrical production there since Pat Hazell's Bunk Bed Brothers was forced out by flooding in June 2006. If the run's a success, look for more theatre at the State, including perhaps the Palace's 2012 production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Of course, these Dirty Rotten Scoundrels may persuade you to brave the interstate to see that show in their home.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs Thursday-Saturday Aug. 18-20, 8pm; Sunday, Aug. 21, 2pm; Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 25-27, 8pm; Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 27-28, 2pm; at the State Theatre, 719 Congress. For more information, visit www.austintheatre.org.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Georgetown Palace Theatre, State Theatre, Mary Ellen Butler, Danny Herman, Rocker Verastique, Andrew Cannata, Joe Penrod, Pat Hazell, Austin Theatre Alliance

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