by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
REFLECTIONS, April 5, 2006
Going to the theater to see a show for the second time because of a new addition to the cast, can be trying and often disappointing. Things that went unnoticed in the production before are now glaring eye sores. This happened to me the other night when I returned to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" to catch the replacement for John Lithgow. Jonathan Pryce the well known, serious British actor has taken up the leading role which, incidentally, John Lithgow had handled with great skill. Jonathan Pryce received fantastic reviews in the "New York Times" for his performance--even his eyebrows got a rave--which of course whetted my appetite. But what a disappointment. What was the "Times" critic thinking?
First of all Mr. Pryce is too old for the part. The leading character--a swindler, a liar, and a ladies man--seduces women into giving him their money by using his (supposedly) enormous sex appeal and commanding presence. And one by one, the ladies do fall for him!!!. I'm afraid I didn't see any of these characteristics in Pryce's portrayal of the arch con man, and more to the point, why would these women go for him? Mr. Pryce has a great reputation; he is an experienced actor, to be sure, and is unafraid to be goofy on stage, but somehow, underneath all the attempted bravado, the serious actor comes through. His farcical talents seemed forced. His routines with the younger comic, his arch rival in thievery, played by Tony Award winner, Norbert Leo Butz, are cleverly staged and their routines and comic scenes are precise and professional. But Mr. Pryce lacks charm and Mr. Butz steals the scenes.
Now about Mr. Butz, whom the audience loves and is wildly applauded for his antics. No doubt Butz is a talented comic, a kind of Charlie Chaplin wizard. He executes complex stage business cleverly; he has a great deal of skill, and a lean rubber-like body that moves in any direction. And that's sometimes brilliant. But with it all, I found him profoundly offensive. His performance is vulgar in the extreme--even hard to watch. I am not interested in seeing him expose his bottom, which brought forth screams from the audience, or his playing with himself, or his other bathroom routines. Yes, I recognize his essential talent, but to display that talent in this unseemly manner only undermines his work. That he won the Tony says something about what Broadway will accept these days.
As for the show-- it remains sleazy. Its conventional routines of the usual dancing girls and boys, the bad singing voices of the leads, and the tired settings of the Riviera cannot capture the charm of the original story or the glamour of the South of France no matter what is thrown on stage. Such musicals, I must admit, are tiresome, particularly when they are adapted from successful movies. I couldn't help remembering--all the while I was watching the show--the sophistication, the elegance, and sheer fun that Michael Caine and Steve Martin brought to the film of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." I'm afraid the stage version could never compete.
Margaret Croyden's most recent book "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" is published by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
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