‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’
Cons meet comedy in Maui OnStage production opening Friday at Iao Theater
To date, the 21st century has been the Broadway era of pop movie to musical adaptations, exceptions being award-winning megahits like “Next to Normal,” “Fun Home” and “Hamilton.”
New musical adaptations emerge with great fanfare each season, the most anticipated of 2017 being “Amelie: A new musical,” which opens next week on Broadway. In 2005, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: The Musical” was a Broadway megahit, earning 11 Tony Award nods. Sophisticated, suave and outrageously funny, the musical-comedy features a jazz-rock score by David Yazbek (“The Full Monty”). Its genesis however was not the familiar film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin, but the cult classic “Bedtime Story,” a nearly identical 1964 film by Stanley Shapiro (“Pillow Talk”) that starred David Niven and Marlon Brando.
Frank Oz helmed the much more successful 1988 remake, originally intended as a vehicle for Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Oz considered Eddie Murphy for the role of Freddy Benson before Martin was offered the role, and Michael Caine was cast after John Cleese turned down the role of Lawrence Jamieson. In the original Broadway cast, John Lithgow played the role of Jamieson, and MGM is currently developing a gender-bending remake with Rebel Wilson attached to play the Benson role.
This season, Maui OnStage chose to mount three movie-to-musical Maui premieres, “Mary Poppins,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and July’s “9 to 5: The Musical.” I sat with director and Maui OnStage board member Lisa Teichner, Lia Krieg-De Souza and Ross Young last week and asked why Maui OnStage audiences should support modern musicals as fervently as past, more traditional spring productions like “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Guys and Dolls.”
“The idea is to present a balance — to expose larger portions of our community, younger people, visitors and people that don’t attend the theater as frequently with edgier shows,” said Teichner.
“Honolulu does all the new shows — they’re more appealing to young people. It’s a good thing that Maui is getting on board with modern shows, this is a show for people that don’t go to musicals,” said Krieg-De Souza.
“It breaks all the molds and doesn’t fall into one specific genre. It breaks out unexpectedly into random, hilarious numbers. I’ve always felt that the purpose of theater was to broaden your perspective and escape into something new before you return to your everyday life,” added Young.
“It’s like an episode of ‘Family Guy,’ “ said Krieg-De Souza. “It’s fast and short, not one of those three-hour musicals. It almost runs like a movie and there are so many different styles of songs.”
The con game comedy pits Jamieson (Steven Dascoulias), who makes his lavish living by swindling wealthy ladies out of large sums, against Benson (Young), who dupes more modest amounts of money with fabricated stories of a dying grandmother. After meeting on a train, they attempt to work together only to uncover that the small French Riviera town isn’t big enough for the both of them. A contest of skills is proposed — the first to extract $50,000 from heiress Christine Colgate (Krieg-De Souza) wins, and the other must leave town.
I asked the trio if they had a favorite scene from the show and all agreed on “Love is My Legs,” an ode to 1980s music videos.
“It’s the most natural number for me,” said Krieg-De Souza.
“I had the imagery from ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ going on in my head the whole time we were staging it, with the candles and the wind and all the fabric flying around,” said Young.
“It allows for so many liberties to be taken. Anyone who is a child of the ’80s will love it,” said Teichner.
2010’s “The Wedding Singer” was the last time Teichner directed a musical, and I asked why she chose “Scoundrels” for her return.
“It was funny,” she said. “First I listened to the soundtrack and thought, ‘It’s not Sondheim.’ But when I read the script in context with the music it was hilarious.”
Krieg-De Souza and Young are also returning to the stage after a brief absence. Young and his husband moved to Maui from Florida last May.
“I do hair, and my first priority was getting settled, but after we did I still felt uneasy, as if something was missing. My husband told me he had never seen me so alive then when I’m on stage,” Young shared. “I felt like it was time. I was nervous, but when I arrived at the Iao (Theater) for the callbacks it was the warmest reception I’ve had in my entire life. I found my tribe working with a team of really talented and weird people.”
Newlywed Krieg-De Souza said, “It feels like it’s time for me to come back. My husband said that he could tell something was missing in my life. Theater has always been a part of my life, it’s my passion.”
Arthur Miller once said, “Great drama is great questions or it is nothing but technique. I could not imagine a theater worth my time that did not want to change the world.” His play “The Crucible” can be an arduous piece of theater to attend, but it is even more demanding on the cast.
This important work would test even the most seasoned stage actors, but the students of Seabury Hall have risen to that challenge with the aid of adult performers Todd Van Amburgh, Ricky Jones and Aaron Romano-Meade.
Set amidst the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Mass., Miller’s language is accurate to the period, which may sound stilted on modern ears. The young cast ably found passages that engaged the audience, especially the second scene of Act 1 set in the farm home of the Proctors. Notable performances included Camille Erdman as Abigail Williams, Marley Mehring as Mary Warren, Carver Glomb as Reverend John Hale, Eliza Wright as Elizabeth Proctor and a particularly impressive performance by Zander Medrano as John Proctor. An additional star of the production, co-produced by Maui Academy of Performing Arts, is the four-sided staging by director David C. Johnston, a minimalist set by Van Amburgh and superb lighting by Amy Lord.
The play is best enjoyed if seated on stage inside the action. A particularly gripping moment from this superior vantage point was observing Erdman’s facial expressions transforming from fear, shame, anger and relief when on the verge of having court testimony obliterate her survival.
* Performances of “The Crucible” continue at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students and are available at www.seaburyhall.org.
The Kamehameha Schools Maui production of “The Bullying Collection” examines a similar topic as “The Crucible” in a contemporary manner. Camille Romero proficiently directs the teen ensemble of Maverick Akana, Taytum Herrick, Kailana Jensen, Kailee Kaeo, Mariana Kaniho, Cullen Mitchell, Tehoni Nae’ole and Taylor Watanabe.
Three of the finest short plays were “Gray Area” by Ian McWethy, “Say Nothing” by C.R. Wright and “Nerdbullies” by Dan Zolidis. Mitchell and Kaeo deliver many laughs in “Nerdbullies” which unearths unexpected bullying ranging from intimidation by online gamers and two kale-fed yoga moms demanding “pancake mom” take her baby to another spot in the park.
In “Gray Area,” Herrick portrays Jessa, a bright teen who presents an optical illusion on her science class Facebook page. The cyber-bullying that ensues affects her confidence, and when her school’s principal (Kaeo) becomes exhausted in policing the incident, Jessa is left to mend the matter on her own.
Kaniho as Emily and Nae’ole as Jack compel in “Say Nothing.” After Emily delivers a touching eulogy following the recent suicide of a classmate, she is approached by his best friend who accuses her of standing idly by while he was bullied for being gay. Jack asks if saying nothing in support is the same as doing nothing to prevent.
* Performances of “The Bullying Collection,” will continue at 7 p.m. Friday and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani. Admission is free.
ALSO THIS WEEK
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents Sean Dorsey Dance: “THE MISSING GENERATION.” This powerful dance and theater work gives voice to longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic. It serves as a love letter to a forgotten generation of survivors who witnessed the loss a significant portion of an entire generation of gay and transgender people to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.
* The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. today in Castle Theater at the MACC in Kahului. Tickets range from $35 to $45 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.