Monday, April 4, 2011

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

(Rob Albrecht as Lawrence and Trey Gilpin as Freddy)

The plus side of being a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist is that life often presents you with happy surprises. And one of those nuggets of joy reside in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels now at CVLT, where two actors in the leads make this con artist musical come to hilarious life.

The performances of Rob Albrecht and Trey Gilpin as the competitive con men Lawrence and Freddy, on the make in the south of France, bring out all the fun of this show. With clever lyrics (and often forgettable music) by David Yazbek and a fairly predictable book by Jeffrey Lane, Scoundrels is a piece yearning for just the right people in the two major roles.

Director Martin Friedman hits the comedy target almost perfectly with his duo. Albrecht plays the dapper grifter Lawrence with smooth condescension and a handy grab bag of Euro accents. Plus, he uses his rich baritone voice to excellent effect in his songs, particularly the second act “Love Sneaks In.”

But the featured role is Freddy, the common, two-bit hustler who first is tutored by Lawrence and then competes with him to see who can fleece the supposed American heiress Christine Colgate. Gilpin slides into this character with enormous physical ease, then proceeds to craft a few laugh-out-loud set pieces, including a stint as Lawrence’s offensive “brother” Ruprecht.

Although relying a bit too often on the gag of pulling or emitting various unpleasantries from different bodily orifices, the rumpled Gilpin can throw away a laugh line with the best of them. And that results in a performance that consistently delights from start to finish.

Playing the mark Christine, Heather Hersh has a gawky and gangly innocence that works well for her character, although she wrestles with her songs—losing three out of four falls in the process.

Sharon Lloyd as the rich Muriel Eubanks and Eric Oswald as the malleable local gendarme Andre have fun with their tryst in the second act, especially in their ditty “Like Zis-Like Zat.” And Libby Merriman kicks up some laughter in her musical tribute to Oklahoma: “Not a tree or a Jew/To block the lovely view.”

While the production feels a bit arthritic in the larger scenes where the ensemble is called upon to perform, this Scoundrels soars on the wings of its two leads. And that makes for an often giddy ride.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Through April 16 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, 40 River St., Chagrin Falls, 440-247-8955

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