Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
San Jose Stage Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Also see Eddie's reviews of Being Alive: A Sondheim Celebration and Young Frankenstein

Keith Pinto, Ashley Garlick, and
Jonathan Rhys Williams

Photo by Dave Lepori
Filled with more corn than an Iowa field in mid-summer, San Jose Stage Company's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is overflowing with groaner puns, slapstick silliness, sexual innuendos, and sophomoric vulgarity the likes of high-school boys making fart jokes. Based on the 1988 film by the same name, the 2004 musical comedy by Jeffrey Lane (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics) is in many ways a Mel Brooks wannabe that has many of the master's touches of farce and parody but somehow never quite reaches his high (or is it low) standard. But with more plot twists and turns than the windiest of Highway One roads and with some comedic stars that leave no physical, vocal, or expression antic untried to secure a roar of laughter, The Stage's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels certainly keeps its audience in stitches. For those who have not seen the movie, it will also keep them guessing until the final scene who will win among the conniving and clownish con artists cheating other equally deceiving and devilish ones.

There is only one major catch in both the musical's book and in The Stage's production: Women dressed to the hilt in high heels and skin-tight dresses are overall portrayed as the not-too-smart and easy-pushover targets who quickly depart with their riches after hearing a ridiculously sad story from an amorous man with an accent. In 2024, this portrayal seems a few decades out of date.

The opening setting of a casino in the French Riviera is where Lawrence Jameson and his sidekick Andre have established themselves to woo and win quick cash and jewelry from rich women on holiday. While they are scarfing necklaces and cash, they hear rumors of a threat to their lucrative business, the possible arrival of a famous con artist from the U.S. known as "The Jackal." When Lawrence notices a man named Freddy Benson swindling all of $20 from a woman sympathetic to his pathetic story of donating his salary to the Red Cross and now being unable to pay for his grandmother's hip surgery, Lawrence assumes Freddy is the so-called Jackal.

Lawrence invites his fellow con artist to his lavish mansion. There, Freddy is totally wowed, begging a reluctant Lawrence to take him under his wing to learn the craft of high-stakes swindling. After Freddy scares off Jolene, an oil-rich woman from Oklahoma who points a gun at Lawrence and demands he marry her after taking her dough (and more than that in her bed), Lawrence agrees to take him on as a protégé and Freddy becomes Lawrence's psychologically disturbed and totally disgusting brother, Ruprecht.

Putting two sham artists with big egos in the same room for too long only leads to "mine is bigger than yours" kind of boyish challenges and an increasing rivalry. A bet is made to see who can swindle $50,000 from an obviously naïve but kind-hearted American woman, Christine Colgate from Omaha (with word that she is a "soap queen" with millions to her name). The loser will agree to "leave town" so the other can commit fraud to his heart's desire.

And thus sets up the musical's two-hours, thirty-minutes (plus intermission) of many sudden plot turns and surprises where one outlandish deception leads to another even more incredibly outrageous one. Director Johnny Moreno pulls out all stops from every bag of tricks to create scenes of hilarity that become ever-more fantastically foolish and insanely nutty.

With oily suavity and quickly generated versions of whatever foreign accent the current squeeze and deception requires, Jonathan Rhys Williams plays Lawrence Jameson with full aplomb. As he sings his opening "Give Them What They Want," his signature piercing, pointed, half-sung, hang-spoken notes cut through the air. His repeated trickery and surprise appearances as everything from a famed psychiatrist to a robed member of a local church choir are pulled off with just the slightest smirk and raised eyebrow as the sophisticate swindler keeps his deadpan cool even as he inflicts more pain and problems on his prime target, Freddy.

For his part as small-time-crook Freddy, hoping to go big-time fast, Keith Pinto–as this much-loved actor is oft wont to do–steals the show from his first appearance to the show's last moments. Comically, there is not a trick he does not try in order to gain another uproar from the adoring audience. Hit with a cane on his legs, his eyes appear ready to pop out and shoot across the stage. Tied up from head to toe, he snakes along the floor and then hops up a set of stairs, one teetering move after another. His face becomes moldable putty for all the expressions he makes, while his body shakes, flips, falls, humps and bumps in a hundred different ways, with memories of Jerry Lewis coming to mind. Vocally, he pines, moans, coos, and uses dozens of other tones to grab a few more chuckles. But when he sings, his voice is among the best, if not the best, of an overall well-intoned cast. Even as he is always finding more ways to be funny, in a number like "Great Big Stuff," his voice soars with solid clarity and sureness. The one time he truly uses his sung vocals for comic effect–"Love Is My Legs"–his affected voice and demeanor is like Neil Diamond on steroids.

Others in the cast certainly earn comic kudos along the way. Hayley Lovgren is a bold and brassy, rich Okie with a drawl and swagger who punches her sung notes ("Oklahoma") with the same snap as she firmly plants her pink boots on the floor. Adrienne Herro is a rich American, Muriel Eubanks, taken in by Lawrence's claim to be a foreign prince seeking funds to fight a revolution and hilariously persistent in searching the hotels and casinos of Europe to seek her evading prince. Along the way, she and the heavily French accented and mannered Andre (Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) find themselves gobsmacked with each other, leading to all sorts of undressed fun and frolic. As Christine, the American with the last name of Colgate who causes dollar marks to come into both Laurence and Freddy's eyes, Ashley Garlick shines in both her brilliantly sung vocals and in her own clever ways of masking her deceptions behind a persona of big-hearted and overly generous innocence.

Amidst all the hokey humor, sexual shenanigans, and physical pranks, it is the times when members of the ensemble appear that, as a musical, The Stage's Scoundrels really proves to be a winner. Whether rich and ready-to-be-swindled heiresses, waiters, maids, tourists, Western two-steppers, pious choir members, or even the usher who seated us upon entering the theater, the varied choreography given these ensemble members by Leslie Waggoner is kicked, stepped, waltzed, tangoed, and twirled to perfection–all the while voices are raised in full harmonies and with impressive musicality. Their many entrances and exits are made even better given the huge array of uniforms, fashion wear, and even Out West finest that Ashley Garlick has designed for them and the rest of the cast.

The seamless shift of scenes of hotel, casino, and mansion locations (including even a dungeon) are made possible by the set-and-projection designs of Jonathan Rhys Williams and property designs of Jenn Trampenau. Lighting spots, shifts and shadows designed by Maurice Vercoutere complete a creative team's efforts to send us traveling around the ins and outs of Europe.

The onstage band of seven conducted by pianist Brian Allan Hobbs both admirably render the musical's score and often become part of the jocularity. However, there is one issue with over-blaring, harsh brass notes that occasionally dominate unpleasant ways.

How much enjoyment one will receive from the San Jose Stage Company's big summer splash of a musical will have a lot to do how much a person likes comedy that sometimes dips a bit on the low, horseplay side and can tolerate a bevy of seemingly guileless women dressed to accentuate their sexiness being so easily taken in by cunning, conning men. For those having no problem with either, The Stage's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is sure to be a summertime treat.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs through June 30, 2024, at San Jose Stage Company, 490 South 1st Street, San Jose CA. For tickets and information, please visit