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The con is on
The AASU Masquers get underhanded with 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'
Fun on the Riviera: John Martin, left, Eve Butler, Jonas Boyd and Brett Levine star in AASU's production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." - photo by Jennifer Incorvaia

Central to the plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the relationship between its central characters, a pair of con men on the French Riviera. Lawrence Jackson and Freddie Benson are two sides of the same slick coin – they’re Quixote and Panza, Bialystock and Bloom, Abbott and Costello.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels began life as a 1988 movie with Michael Caine and Steve Martin playing Lawrence and Freddy. Chemistry, clearly, is everything.

Starting Thursday, the Masquers theater at Armstrong Atlantic State University will bring the hit musical version of this comic caper to life in the Jenkins Hall auditorium. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels received 11 Tony nominations when it arrived on Broadway in 2005, a staged adaptation of the film (the stars were John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz).

At AASU, the leads are played by a pair of young actors who couldn’t be more opposite. Jonas Boyd (as Lawrence) is a 28–year–old senior who’s been doing stagework for most of his adult life; Freddy is played by 19–year–old freshman Brett Levine, whose resume consists mostly of plays and musicals in high school.

“Me and Jonas get along great,” says Levine. “We love to play off each other, and I think we both have a really good grasp on timing.

“I am definitely the sleazeball of the show. Freddy is a small–time con man who comes in on Lawrence’s turf, and Lawrence starts out trying to get rid of me. He’s intelligent and I’m sleazy. I think I know it all, but I don’t know anything.”

The two snake oil salesman eventually throw in their lot together. “Lawrence has never had a fellow con artist come in and try to take his stuff, yet they’re having fun doing it,” Boyd explains. “Freddy eventually asks him to teach him.
“Lawrence most likely had a mentor himself, and he begins to teach him about the proper clothing, how to walk and talk and such.”

It becomes a reluctantly symbiotic relationship. “We’re like kids in a playground,” says Boyd. “He’s very vulgar and I’m very graceful; he’s kind of like the yin to my yang. That’s why we get along so well, I think, because he does the things that I want to but can’t because it would hurt my business.”

Eventually, the pair find that the Riviera isn’t big enough for both of them. (Hint: A woman, and a large amount of money, come between them.)

The songs are by David Yazbeck, who wrote the similarly off–the–wall words and music for the Broadway smash The Full Monty; Jay Lane based his book on the original movie screenplay.

Masquers director Pam Sears was a big fan of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels movie. “I thought it was absolutely hilarious,” she says. “And so when I saw that it had been turned into a Broadway musical, I was ecstatic, and I was eager for the rights to be available and to give it a shot.

“And it is a huge undertaking, but it’s kind of an ‘all hands on deck’ experience for this department.”

Despite the massive technical and creative support, in the end, it all came down to Lawrence and Freddy.

“Whenever you have a college department of this size, you have to know – before you pay for the rights – that you can cast it,” Sears explains. “And there’s always a little bit of a fear. If you walk in thinking ‘I hope the right person walks through the door, but I don’t have any idea who that person is,’ you might sort of shoot yourself in the foot and then you’re out of luck.

“Not to say that I pre–cast, or that anybody else would pre–cast, but you have to know that you’ve got the talent pool that can pull it off.”

She needn’t have worried, though, as a record number of auditioners – both students and performers from the community at large – showed up.

She had her pick of the actor/singers that impressed her most, and the result was the tag–team of Jonas Boyd and Brett Levine (the other characters are played by a cross–section of students and non–students).

“There’s a lot of stuff that you can do in musical theater that you can’t do in straight dramas or comedies,” Levine observes. “You can make it a lot cheesier than real life. The jokes in this show are brilliant. I think it would be more difficult to do that if it were just a straight play.

“A lot of friends I have don’t like musical theater, in that you don’t break into song in real life. But that’s what I love about it. It’s spontaneous. You just step away from the real.”

Boyd transferred into the AASU theater department two years ago. He’d been training as an opera singer, and had performed with the Savannah Civic Chorus (among others), but found musical theater much more satisfying.

“As I was growing up, my mother was involved with musical theater,” he says. “And I would go to rehearsals because we couldn’t afford a babysitter. So I would stand at the back and listen, or sing along. She had a large selection of cast albums that I would listen to on the record player. So it was kind of a gradual thing.

“In opera, I find that the audience is more detached from the story than in musical theater. You can’t have as much fun with the characters in the sense that there’s a lot more development in musical theater. And you can bring it to this modern day, and people can relate to that.”

Delete - Merge U

Delete - Merge UpDirty Rotten Scoundrels

Where: Jenkins Hall theater, Armstrong Atlantic State University campus, 11935 Abercorn St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18–20, 3 p.m. Feb. 21; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25–27

Cost: $15; free for AASU students with valid ID

Phone: (912) 344–2801