Giving Them What They Want….A Dirty Rotten Musical…

Giving Them What They Want….A Dirty Rotten Musical…

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS Official LogoAt this year's Educational Theatre Associations’ Thespian Festival, Central York High School (Pennsylvania) have been chosen to perform a main stage production of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, one of five MTI shows which will be performed. We wish CYHS the best of luck, and hope you'll take a look at their journey to the festival by clicking here.

Recently at MTI we’ve been exploring what makes certain musicals appealing to high school students. What, for example, made Central York and countless other High Schools chose DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS?

The Show Itself

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS was created by the team behind THE FULL MONTY (book by Terrence McNally). It is no wonder, therefore, that the show is jam-packed with beautifully rude and irreverent laughs. David Yazbek wrote both the music and lyrics with book by Jeffrey Lane. The musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name which starred the fabulously talented Michael Cain and Steve Martin. Interestingly, current high school students are probably not even aware of the film, but the musical is held in such high esteem in its own right that this matters little. Plus, a real treat awaits those students who want to see the film.

The 2005 Broadway production, directed by veteran Jack O’Brien, opened to rave reviews and racked up eleven Tony nominations! It starred Broadway legends John Lithgow, as the classy con man Lawrence Jameson, Norbert Leo Butz as the ramshackle con Freddy Benson and Sherie Rene Scott as the Marilyn Monroe-esque Christine Colgate.

The plot pivots around two drastically different con men; sophisticated Brit Lawrence and rough and ready Freddy, competing to be the first to trick apparent “American Soap Queen” Colgate out of $50,000. Wheelchairs, Texas line dancing and dodgy fake accents ensue in this hilarious caper. {Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the show and don’t want to know the surprise ending turn away now!} In a wonderful twist, the cons are conned when Colgate turns out to the infamous swindler, the Jackal and manages to take $50,000 from the boys!

Central York High School's production

It Gives You What You Want:

Champagne and Comedy

This show is rich in slapstick comedy, witty comebacks and crude jokes set against a glamorous backdrop. A show which actually mentions “genital cuffs” is sure to be a hit with high school students.

Furthermore, the two male leads have the opportunity to engage is some serious comedy, forgive the oxymoron. The role of Freddy calls for more physical, over the top, flamboyant comedic acting. Not only does he pretend to be paralyzed, and endure Lawrence whipping his legs without flinching, he gets to play the infamous Ruprecht. In order to get rid of an unwanted fiance Freddy poses as Lawrence’sderanged little brother, who is “Missing a chromosome”. Meanwhile Lawrence is posing as a Prince of a fictional European country undergoing a revolution! With Ruprecht’s talk of “Burmese Belly Rubs” and “Fresh-shaved Testicles on Christmas Day” they manage to scare the lady off! Norbert Leo Butz won a Tony, Drama Desk and Drama league award for his performance. It truly is a role that will allow a budding comedic actor to strut their stuff.

Likewise, the roles of Lawrence and Colgate allow for superlative comic displays. Colgate plays the clumsy heiress who often knocks men out while making love. Lawrence gets to use an array of dodgy fake accents and throw away witty comebacks as if they were candy. The supporting roles of Police Officer Andre Thibault (also Lawrence’s right-hand man) and American millionaire Muriel are equally enjoyable. But it’s not all slapstick, half the fun comes with the verbal trickeries and slight of hands. Plus all the main characters are lovable rogues, they're not goody goodies by any stretch of the imagination. Thus, the actors will feel smart and sophisticated performing these roles, as will the audience.

Central York High School's production

Glitz and Glamour

A beautiful location with beautiful people, what more could anyone want? This musical provides something which audiences and actors often yearn for: escapism. There is an old school glamor to DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, set amongst the lush landscape of the French Riviera in a decadent hotel. It is a post card perfect setting. Lawrence himself is a man of means, he has a sea front villa with servants and sweeping staircases. It is not surprising, therefore, that once Freddy sees his lifestyle he wants a piece of it too. He sings about wanting “Great Big Stuff” and what high school student doesn’t also dream of “The cash to keep me idle/The chicks to keep me vital”? The show whisks you away to the luxury of Hollywood films and glossy magazines.

The setting and costumes means those working behinds the scenes can really go to town as well. Yet, the set budget doesn’t have to be astronomical to suggest the luxury. As in the original Broadway version, partial backdrops, even two chairs and a table, can be more than enough. In short, this musical can be what you want it to be. The skillfully crafted book and songs mean a large ensemble chorus can support the leads in a lavish set, or a smaller ensemble cast with a more minimal set can be equally effective. The show allows for a flexible cast size of 11-20 with potential for a fabulous dancing chorus. No matter what the size of cast and set, everyone involved with adore each moment.

Dirty Rotten Soundrels
Norbert Leo Butz (left) and John Lithgow in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels photo by Carol Rosegg

An Updated Classic

Although DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS harks back to the golden era with the elegance of Cole Porter-inspired lyrics and music it is, however, a classic musical book comedy with an update. The music itself is eclectic including references to hip hop, traditional Broadway and country music. In the song “Great Big Stuff” many modern day cultural figures are mentioned, such as “Poker with Al Roker”, “I wanna be like Trump” and P Diddy. So, the glitz and glamor is not perceived as outdated by hip high-schoolers. This is a musical even the biggest football jock would love to be part of.

With seamless references to high culture and pop culture woven into the score, high school students will be able to identify with Freddy’s dreams, crave Colgate's cunning and yearn for Lawrence’s lifestyle. But perhaps most importantly, performing in this show will allow them to forget about the drudgery of Math tests and Biology homework while they have a ball and have a blast.*

*MTI is not responsible for any students who take up residence in Beaumont Sur Mer posing as paralyzed soldiers or endangered Princes.

For more information on the show, to see what other schools are doing, including pictures of productions plus links to community rentals, click here.

For licensing and additional information about any of the above shows, click here.
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