Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The Georgetown Palace's 'Dirty Rotten' is anything but

Arts Review

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

State Theatre, 719 Congress, 472-5470


Through Aug. 28

Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.

One might assume from the title that a pungent air lurks somewhere beyond the curtain for those who venture to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the beautifully restored State Theatre, but this newest installment of musicals from the Georgetown Palace Theatre offers anything but a stench. On the contrary, most elements of the production converge quite aromatically in a slick, clean fashion.

In the past, the Palace has served up some pretty inconsistent fare where quality is concerned, and some Austin theatregoers (myself included) have found themselves wondering whether a drive to Georgetown would result in a theatrical experience satisfying enough to be worth the trip. If you happen to be one of those people, do yourself a favor and give the Palace the second chance it has so rightly earned itself with this latest production.

What makes this show so noteworthy in the Palace's oeuvre? For starters, Andrew Cannata. The trek Downtown – or to Georgetown or beyond, for that matter – is surely the smallest of prices to pay for the privilege of experiencing his performance as young con man Freddy Benson. If you know anything about musical theatre in Austin, you know Cannata's name. And although I'm often impressed by his work onstage, for me this performance represents without question his tour de force. It's as if the role were written for him, vocal fireworks and all.

Three additional reasons not to miss this Scoundrels: Joe Penrod's savvy, nuanced turn as Lawrence Jameson, professor of con; Patty Rowell's smart "soap queen" Christine Colgate, whose flawless duet with Freddy on "Love Is My Legs" is incontrovertibly the highlight of the evening; and, especially, Michelle Cheney's brilliant Muriel, who represents Cheney's fantastic command of blending archetype and subtlety. Of special note are the live, sevenpiece pit band conducted by Lannes Hilboldt (a very welcome and robust replacement for the prerecorded accompaniments of previous Palace productions); substantial vocal direction by Clifford Butler; and magnificent sound by Sam Kokajko, who produces some of the best sound engineering I've heard in Austin, with the exception of several moments of underscoring where dialogue – and occasionally lyrics within numbers such as the otherwise uproarious "Oklahoma?" – was difficult to hear above the instrumentalists.

Despite its generous merits (and there are many, to be sure), this production on the whole does seem to yearn for that fashionable elegance that makes its story and setting so ideal for the musical theatre stage. Director Mary Ellen Butler and choreographers Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique clearly understand and strive for the high style of this haut monde on the French Riviera, but their smartly stylized concepts are at times lost in execution. That said, this is no reason to deny oneself the joyful experience of an evening with a couple of misfit cons and their colorful accomplices. If the Palace's productions continue to show the exponential growth in quality that Scoundrels does, I'll be finding myself in Georgetown quite a bit more this season, and maybe you will, too.

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Georgetown Palace Theatre, State Theatre, Mary Ellen Butler, Danny Herman, Rocker Verastique, Joe Penrod, Michelle Cheney, Andrew Cannata

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