Theater Review: Scoundrels are Stealing Hearts in Mattituck

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Kelsey Cheslock as Christine Colgate and Michael Hipp as Freddy Benson in NFCT’s new production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The North Fork Community Theatre has long excelled at elaborate musical productions, and the theater has again pulled out all the stops in its new production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which opened last weekend to packed houses.

The musical, directed by Laura Pearsall, follows two con men as they compete to be the first to swindle an heiress out of $50,000 in a small town on the French Riviera. Based on the 1988 film of the same name, it premiered on Broadway in 2005 and was warmly received in the West End in 2014.

On the North Fork’s stage, it highlights the best of what community theater can be — a boisterous, energy-packed production filled with actors who are obviously delighted to be contributing their talents to the stage.

There is some pretty naughty language in this play, and while much of it is in the form of double entendres that could sail over your young ones’ heads, be forewarned that if you bring your kids to this show you might have to do some embarrassing explaining on the car ride home.

If you were at last fall’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” you probably remember Michael Hipp’s performance as the botany nerd Seymour who sets the action in motion in that play.

But chances are you won’t recognize him from that performance if you see him as Freddy Benson in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Manning Dandridge and Jack Seabury plot a scheme
Manning Dandridge and Jack Seabury plot a scheme.

As a master of the elaborate swindle, he’s a chameleon here — at one moment he’s a student of avarice with echoes of Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” while belting out the rap-infused “Great Big Stuff,” and not long after, as the con mens’ schemes get underway, he’s bizarre and repulsive in his act as “Ruprecht,” a basement-dwelling troll of a human who wonders around in his boxer shorts with a scepter and a mason jar at his hip to save his farts. He then becomes dashing and debonair as a half-paralyzed army sergeant wooing his prey. He turns in quite a powerhouse performance.

With all this show-stopping conning on Freddy’s part, Jack Seabury’s role as the other con man (the straight con man, if you will), Lawrence Jameson, is a tamer one by far. In the midst of a mid-life crisis, he longs for the wildness of his young days of swindling. But this story relies on his telling it in song, and the warmth of his singing carries this production from the opening curtain to the close.

Marguerite Volonts is on quite a run in roles at NFCT as easily-duped wealthy women of a certain age — she’s in on the joke, and the audiences love her for it. Her cameo romantic violin solo (on a violin stolen for a moment from the pit) is delicious and playful, and her singing always adds a bit of a shine to the stage.

Manning Dandridge, whom you will remember if you saw him as the narrator in NFCT’s 2014 production of “Into the Woods,” is just wonderful as the chief of police (and scoundrel accomplice) Andre Thibault. With a wry smile that always seems an unspoken joke between him and the audience and a European affect that is both aloof and charming, he is one of the few of this cast of conning characters who might just win your heart.

Kelsey Cheslock as the “American Soap Queen” Christine Colgate is so damn American that you’ve gotta just eat some apple pie and go to the country fair as soon as you see her on stage. She exudes so much wholesomeness that you just want to protect her from the real world.

This is how she’s supposed to be played and Ms. Cheslock does a fine job, but as an American audience member the European characters just seem so much more fascinating and unusual. But she’s got a few surprises in store.

Another wealthy American, Oklahoma oil princess Jolene Oakes, is as much fun as a trip to the rodeo as played with boot-stomping intensity by Nancy DiGirolamo.

It’s great to see so many young actors and Youth on Stage veterans in the chorus of this spring production — it’s a big commitment to take on a play of this scale during the school year, but they all seem to be loving every minute of their time on stage. This bodes good things for future involvement in the theater as these kids become young adults.

The North Fork Community Theatre's production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" opens tonight. More information is below.
The North Fork Community Theatre’s production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” opens tonight. More information is below.

An NFCT musical wouldn’t be an NFCT musical without a great pit orchestra, and this pit has some nice instrumentation — Colin VanTuyl on trumpet, Lucinda Hemmick on flute, Bob Blank on hollow-bodied electric guitar and Ben Eager on violin, under the musical direction of Karen Hochstedler and backed up by a fine rhythm section of Steve Loquet on bass and Zach Branker on drums.

The costume changes are frequent, fascinating and well-coordinated by Linda Aydinian, Lauren Sisson and Jan McKenna and the set is a beautiful, versatile space haunted constantly by Katrina Lovett’s mural of a full moon of mystery beyond the balcony. It would have been nice to not see the stage crew as they set up tables for some scenes (it does jar the illusion of this other world on stage), but this theater has always had to make do with some constraints of space and logistics, especially when staging more elaborate productions. That’s why they’re in the midst of their “Building on Tradition” fundraising campaign.

I have to say that I don’t usually review matinees, on the (perhaps erroneous) assumption that casts are more likely to put their best foot forward on a Friday or Saturday night. But as I stumbled out into the sunlight after three hours of theater Sunday afternoon, I felt that I’d spent my day completely transported to another world, far away from the North Fork.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” will continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through May 29. Tickets are $20 and are available online here or by calling the box office at 631.298.6328.

Student tickets will be available for $15 at the box office beginning 10 minutes before each performance.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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