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“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” – a Musical Romp at Covina Center

Sometimes a musical is just for laughs. One well done, even by a small or semi-pro theater, can be a truly relaxing way to spend an evening. Taken all in all, that’s what you’ll find at Covina Center for the Performing Arts, where the Broadway spin on “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” – the 2006 Tony-nominated musical by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane – has taken up residence. Ridiculous, raucous and energetic, the CCPA production overcomes its occasional amateur underpinnings to have most of the makings of a hit.

The silly tale is essentially the same as the film: longtime flim-flam man Lawrence Jameson is making an impressive living along the French Riviera by pretending to be a financially strapped prince. Word spreads that another con artist known as The Jackel is treading on his turf. Then, he meets Freddy, a course and youthful grifter, and operating under the assumption that this is that competitior, the comedy begins.

Freddy helps Lawrence extricate himself from the grasp of a Oklahoma heiress bent on marriage, then both turn their attention (and are soon betting on) innocent young American heiress Christine. All the while, Lawrence’s stalwart ally Andre finds himself first distracting and then drawn to the middle aged, wealthy Muriel (one of Lawrence’s cast-offs), to great comic effect.

Central to the success of this venture are the performers, and here all the main characters are delightfully realized. Jeff Lowe gives Lawrence the faux sophistication necessary for his particular style of con, laced as it is with an air of underlying practicality. Jeremiah Concepciion is just dignified enough, and yet just goofy enough, to make Andre particularly lovable. Jenny Moon Shaw has a ball with the increasingly devil-may-care Muriel, and Katie McConaughy makes the most of the stereotypical Oklahoman.

Stephanie Draude manages her own balance of gee-whiz innocence and heat, as the girl who becomes the target for both men. Still, nobody has the chance to chew the scenery, or enjoys doing so with such obvious pleasure, as much as Nicholas Herbst. As Freddy, his nonstop energy powers much of the comedy, as it should in this work. Surrounding these folk are an ensemble, who create the rest of the atmosphere, and sing and (for the most part) dance with more than expected polish.

Director Wendy Friedman keeps this thing moving, using the fairly small CCPA space with considerable creativity in order to do so. Choreographer Adrianna Castillo brings originality and energy to the dance moments, finding ways to highlight the best of her variously-abled ensemble. Joshua Prisk’s lighting design becomes a character, using the comparatively sophisticated CCPA system to great affect. Melissa Morin’s costuming, though sometimes a bit low-rent, certainly has most of the woman looking glamourous.

Though I am not often an advocate of recorded orchestras, in this venue the choice is a wise one. The peculiar acoustics of this former movie house have a tendency to leave the sound of live musicians bouncing around in the rafters, and the musicians themselves stuck in odd spots within the theater space. A recording can be aimed, and tempered, allowing a consistent balance between singers and instruments.

Indeed, the main weaknesses tend to lie mostly with the ongoing challenge at this venue: the weird height of the stage space itself, and the large expanse of plain, flat back curtain which continuously underscores that fact. An odd series of arches and columns simply disappear against that blah scrim, making what is supposed to be the recurring setting of an imposing mansion look more like something built from Tinker Toys. There is no set designer listed, so this may be a matter of borrowed material, but in general this company needs to address what to do with that background.

One advisory: unlike many Broadway musicals, this one is not for children. The discussion is sometimes crude, and often scatalogical in language and intent. Still, for the more adult, this thing is a hoot. In short, go see “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” for relaxing grown-up laughs, without the need for much in the way of mental calisthenics to disrupt the fun.

What: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” When: Through March 10, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave., Covina How Much: $28 and $38 Info: (626) 331-8311, ext. 1 or ww.covinacenter.com

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