In 2005, while reviewing the Broadway musical, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” by David Yazbeck (“The Full Monty”) and Jeff Lane (“Mad About You”), I noticed some audience members so consumed by laughter that they appeared about to fall out of their seats … including myself. Although the evening we saw the laugh-a-second comedy, the co-starring role — normally played by the consummate actor John Lithgow — was taken by an understudy, this in no way diminished the impact of the outrageously internecine plot, which centers upon two conmen intent on filching vacationers on the French Riviera.
After the final curtain, we dashed out to the theater’s box office to try to get tickets to see it again during our New York visit. Luckily, we succeeded. Although the understudy’s performance had been extremely impressive, when Lithgow lit up the stage with his unique brand of sparkling humor we realized it was well worth the money to see the same show twice.
The good news is that “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” will make its regional premiere at the Footlight Players on Aug. 7, as the opening production for the 84th season of Charleston’s oldest theater. With veteran actor Robin Burke as director, the tune-filled show will feature Inga Agrest in the demanding role of musical director.
A 30-year veteran of the theater, Burke studied at the University of Houston under the legendary director Jose Quintero and the award-winning playwright Edward Albee. Also, Burke appeared in productions at Houston’s highly respected Alley Theatre, the winner of a Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. After moving to New York, He was cast in the 1998 off-Broadway play “Ascendancy.”
Burke noted, “I’m so happy to be directing this light-hearted production, which I truly believe Charleston audiences will love, despite its PG-13 rating due to language and metaphorical sexual situations.”
Based on the 1988 film of the same title, the stage production of the musical sticks closely to the film version, set amid the glitz and glamour of a Riviera casino. The role of Lawrence Jameson, a charming crook extremely successful at swindling the rich, will be played by Bradley Keith, while Cameron Christianson will portray the dirt-broke, inexperienced rip-off artist, Freddy Benson. Feeling pity for Freddy, Lawrence decides to show him a few tricks of the trade; however, Freddy turns out to be a fast-learner — too fast for Lawrence’s taste — causing chaos to ensue.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” will be performed Aug. 7-23 at Footlight Theater, 20 Queen St. For times and individual or season tickets, visit footlightplayers.net or call 722-4487.
New touch for ‘Taming of the Shrew’
Although set in the 1500s, William Shakespeare’s raucous comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew” retains a decided relevancy to issues still faced in today’s society, says John Bryan, director of the production running through Aug. 16 at the Threshold Repertory Theatre.
Alex Smith and Blair Cadden in "The Taming of the Shrew." Image courtesy Threshold Repertory Theater.
Often described as “the most controversial of William Shakespeare’s plays,” it focuses upon a worry that plagued members of “polite society and royalty” who objected to the unseemly behavior of “shrews” or scolds, represented by “cantankerous or gossipy” wives who resisted the authority assumed by their husbands and whose attitudes or actions called for them to be tamed either by their husbands in the privacy of the home, or, in some cases, in a public punishment, such as being repeatedly dunked in a river. Oddly enough, these customs often served as topics in the literature of Shakespeare’s era.
Bryan moved to Charleston from Rock Hill, where he frequently directed at theaters in the area. He explains, “Shakespeare’s work is not short on controversial themes, from the blatant racism in ‘Othello’ and ‘Titus Andronicus,’ to the anti-Semitism in ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ to the jingoism of ‘As You Like It.’”
The director, who has moved the play’s setting up to the 1920s, adds, “However, what causes this play to differ from the others is that it was not always considered to be controversial; certainly not when it opened, nor through most of the intervening centuries, because the common belief was that a strong-willed woman was something that needed to be ‘fixed.’”
Although not the publicly held view today since women have, ostensibly, attained equality with men, Bryan adds that “nevertheless, a subtle undercurrent still exits that tells little girls not to be ‘bossy’ and that fails to encourage girls to enter fields of math or science.”
Threshold’s production stars Alex Smith as Petruchio and Blair Cadden as Katherina, as the warring husband and wife, other roles include Cameron Tubbs as Luciento and Mariah Baideme as Bianca. The play runs through Aug. 16 at the theater, 84.5 Society St. For times, dates and tickets, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thresholdrep.org.
Ashley’s picks for upcoming weeks
Charleston Stage season discounts
Through Sept. 20, Charleston Stage is offering up to a 46 percent discount on tickets to its 2015- 2016 season. Consisting of a total of eight productions to be performed at the Dock Street Theatre, the deadline for receiving the greatest discount is Sept. 20.
Celebrating its 38th season, the theater’s Mainstage Series opens with the musical comedy, “The Producers,” Aug. 28-Sept. 20. Other plays include: “The Little Shop of Horrors,” Oct. 16-Nov. 1; “A Christmas Story,” Dec. 4-20,”The Seat of Justice,” Feb. 19-March 6; “Shear Madness,” March 11-27 and “Mary Poppins,” April 8-May 1.
The Family Series consists of three age-appropriate productions: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Oct. 24 and 31; “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Dec. 12-19 and “A Year with Frog and Toad,” Jan. 23 and 24.
To receive a discount, theatergoers may purchase tickets to all five plays in the Mainstage Series, or to the three-play Family Series, or selections may be made from both series.
For further information, call Charleston Stage at 577-7183, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Dottie Ashley, arts columnist for the Charleston Mercury, served for many years as arts writer and critic for the state’s two largest newspapers. She was winner of the 2003 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award and twice a recipient of a Dance Critics Fellowship to the American Dance Festival.