Yes, something is definitely rotten at the Old Courthouse Theatre – dirty, too, so you can be sure it isn’t Hamlet. Instead of chilly Denmark, OCT is taking us to the funny sunny Riviera, where con artists Lawrence Jamieson and Freddy Benson are vying to bilk faux soap queen Christine Colgate out of $50,000 in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Since you might be watching this deliciously wicked David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane musical up the road in Concord, you’re likely to find yourself in an audience that is mostly unfamiliar with the Michael Caine-Steve Martin film it’s based on. And unlike recent Theatre Charlotte productions, cast mostly with slumming professionals, you’ll be experiencing true community theater, reminded of the ratio of amateurs-to-professionals that exists in the real world.
Craig Spradley has had plenty of directing gigs in Charlotte over the years, from Actor’s Theatre to Pineville Dinner, so it’s not surprising that he has the crème de la crème of Concord in the plum roles here. But up in the loft overlooking the stage, none other than CPCC Summer/Children’s Theatre stalwart Drina Keen is leading the four-piece band. So this musical up at Old Courthouse isn’t so alien after all. Remember that the topical jokes are on Kannapolis instead of Gastonia, and you’re all set.
Will Baysinger is the suaver swine as Lawrence, gifted with the best voice, but it’s Tommy Warlick as Freddy who draws the juiciest material as he drools over his mentor’s wealth in “Great Big Stuff” and fakes a miracle cure in “Love Is My Legs.” Baysinger gets in the hijinks when Jamieson, impersonating a prince to scam the rich lady guests at the ritzy Beaumont sur Mer, calls upon Freddy to impersonate his repellent brother Ruprecht. Otherwise how shall he disentangle himself from Jolene Oaks, the possessive Okie cowgal who presumes she has roped the prince into marriage?
The resulting trio, “All About Ruprecht,” with Sloane Wood as Jolene, is one of the evening’s comic highlights. But the set-up, a big production splash-out of “Oklahoma,” with elaborate horsey choreography by Mitzi Furr Ballard, is nearly as good.
Warlick takes it upon himself to carry the show as Freddy, and with a pair of eyes that often roll freely in their sockets, he has the goods to deliver. Unfortunately, the funniest eyeballs in the Metrolina region roll too readily and often, somewhat eroding their impact over the long haul. With Baysinger at his side, he needn’t try so hard.
As Christine Colgate, Kim Baysinger is another strong asset, able to belt zestfully – except at the top of her range – from the moment she enters with the brash “Here I Am.” Better is the duet with Freddy, “Nothing Is Too Wonderful to Be True,” when Freddy has transformed himself into a clinging cripple to claim Christine’s $50K, and still better is the waltzing trio, “Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen,” when Jamieson trumps his rival by impersonating the doctor who will cure him.
Yazbek’s music is every bit as winsome as Lane’s book, sturdy enough to warrant an excursion up I-85 – and sturdy enough to withstand the falloff in quality among the remainder of the cast. Nick Culp’s accent as Inspector Andre Thibault, Jamieson’s customary accomplice, seems to have developed some severe tatters since he swiped it from Peter Sellers, but his rapprochement with Omaha mark Muriel Eubanks (Lauren Hill) is curiously adorable in a way that fanciers of true community theater will appreciate.
I can only hope that, as the Old Courthouse Theatre celebrates its 35th year, they will find the financial wherewithal to replace their sound system before they’re 50, since the wretched equipment probably should have been upgraded ten years ago. They don’t go easy on the rig, I’ll say that. Unlike CPCC, where they fear clipping so much that we struggle to hear nearly all their productions at Halton Theater, everybody gets the full benefit – and irritation – of maximum amplification. Only the musicians are spared from the sonic crucible.
The seats look as old as the sound system, but they’re wonderfully comfortable, perhaps the best in the area. Old can be good at Old Courthouse, and this production of a 2005 musical, for all its rough edges, is brimming with vitality, buffoonery, and fun.