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Dirty, Maybe - But Far From Rotten

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - High Street Arts Center

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” just opened at Moorpark’s High Street Arts Center on Friday, June 1st, and it boasts an incredibly talented cast and crew - which it uses to great effect. There is a high amount of detail and care put into the performances, which means you’ll never be bored or checking the time to see how much longer it’ll go. If anything, you’ll be asking for more.

I’m pleased to say that this production might be the most fun I’ve ever had seeing a show - my apologies for the seeming hyperbole there, but I might not be exaggerating. I love the way the show plays fast-and-loose with the Fourth Wall - especially the local call-out we got in one scene. The cast of High Street's "Mister Roberts," who were in attendance during this performance, even got a direct mention. The cast had me laughing so hard, and over and over again. Many of the ensemble members have stand-out moments - like Lauren Rachel and Hannah Harvey - and all of them make the most of their time onstage.

Director Alison Rosenblum and Assistant Director Jack Cleary - both first-timers at the helm of an “adult,” main-stage show (both having directed a handful of High Street's "Junior" productions) - squeeze every single joke, and have worked to seize every single moment of comedy possible out of writer Jeffrey Lane’s and lyricist David Yazbek’s material. Through this production, they both exhibit a solid understanding of comedy directing and... wait for it... timing.

From the moment each of the leads take the stage, they capture your attention, and never let it go. They are constantly in the moment, and fully inhabiting their characters. This is especially true with Megan Rayzor, who returns to the stage in a leading role after an extended time working with her parents on the production side of the theater. She plays Christine Colgate, a naive, young woman who comes to the small, French town on vacation to see the sights. Her bright-eyed demeanor and clumsiness endear you to her immediately. It was a treat to see her back onstage.

Nick Newkirk and Michael Rosenblum were more than magnetic as the two con men that bet each other to the ultimate scam, the winner of which would have free reign of the town, the loser of which has to pack up and leave. They play brilliantly off of each other, and you can tell that there’s a definite pleasure each of them take - and I mean the actors themselves - in the misfortunes the other endures. Newkirk whipping Rosenblum, for example, was all too funny.

Newkirk plays the suave, commanding Lawrence Jameson, who has set himself up in town, and has been living large off of the “donations” he receives for his fake revolution back in his fake country - in which he is a prince (or “prawnce,” if you will). Newkirk inhabits the role with style, coolness, and savoir faire - even while being the brunt of many jokes about the character’s age. As Lawrence begins falling for Christine, you really believe that he might go against his own advice about letting someone in despite the charade he’s created.

Michael Rosenblum makes his main-stage High Street debut as Freddy Benson - which Norbert Leo Butz originated in 2004, and for which he won the Tony award in 2005. Freddy’s from out of town, and meets Lawrence by chance after the latter witnesses him con a local woman out of some cash. Freddy eventually convinces Lawrence to teach him the finer points of grifting, so that he can learn from a master. This role is extremely physical (especially the wheelchair bits), and Rosenblum pulls it off with exuberance and verve. He gives everything onstage, and it’s a joy to watch him perform.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Nora Kulkarni and Jim Byrnes - who practically steal the entire show, almost conning the audience into thinking that the main focus is on them. Sneaky. Kulkarni returns to High Street to play Muriel Eubanks from Omaha, and she delivers an expert performance that is in-command of her own comedy, and the comedy around her. There is not one single moment that she misses to capture and deliver to the audience. Byrnes is another that makes his High Street debut here, and he gets the lion’s share of punchlines. It’s deserved, especially during a scene up in the balcony while he nurses a wild hangover.

Kate Fruehling turns in a hilarious performance, too, as the achingly funny foil to Newkirk’s Lawrence, Jolene Oakes. Though the character’s time is brief, relative to others, she is hardly forgotten. Along with the Southern affectation, and all the tassels, Fruehling has a blast while boot-scootin’ and pistol shootin’ around the stage. Her song, “Oklahoma,” is a riot.

Speaking of the songs, Becca Peyton and Bennie Glasner co-Music Direct a show with some tricky harmonies to pull off, and handle it with seeming ease. Newkirk and Rosenblum’s voices blend well, and the ensemble sounds very good together. What’s unfortunate is the sound quality we got through the mics and the house’s system, which was very muddy on many of the leads. There was a moment, at the end of Christine’s “Here I Am” number, where the system made Megan Rayzor’s final note come across a little flat. I could hear her singing the right note, but it was off a little coming through the speakers. Throughout much of the first act, some of the mics were so muddy that I couldn’t understand the actors, despite their diction.

The costumes, designed and supplied by the excellent and talented Barbara Mazeika, were impeccable, meticulous, and spoke of the characters that wore them. For example, given the outcome of the show, I like that Christine’s very first dress is green. The white-and-blue skirts during the “Oklahoma” number were perfect and felt very authentic for the feel of the number. Rosenblum’s opening outfit was also so well put together, that I wished we got to see him in it more throughout the show. It set him against the look of Newkirk’s Lawrence so well and so immediately, and in such a wonderfully 1980’s way (the film the musical was based on came out in 1988).

Christopher Mahr’s choreography was a lot of fun - and I mean a LOT of fun to watch! Standout numbers include “Oklahoma,” “Great Big Stuff,” “Give Them What They Want,” “The More We Dance,” and the unbelievably, side-splittingly funny “Love Is My Legs.” There were a few moments when some the group numbers seemed under-rehearsed, but this might also be due to opening jitters. But any choreographer that can make Nick Newkirk look good dancing is more than worth his salt.

The sets were relegated to printed backdrops behind various furniture, and it honestly left me yearning for the grandiose structures and set builds that High Street is typically known for. We were just treated to “My Fair Lady,” “Grease,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mister Roberts,” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” all of which had very impressive sets that make me wish we were able to see High Street’s vision of the French Riviera, and the luxury that surrounds it. Though the trellises were a nice touch.

Overall, the show is absolutely hilarious - an uproar - a practically literal laugh-a-minute. Go see the show, you will not be disappointed. There is adult language, so be aware if you’re taking the family. “Scoundrels” runs through July 1st, and is even worth seeing a second time - it’s that good. I promise. ...Would I lie to you?

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