Ruprecht is the literal epitome of anal-retentiveness, claiming to collect his farts in mason jars. He also has this icky tendency to act out childhood fantasies about his mom's boobs.
What's more, he's not even Ruprecht. He's Freddy Benson, a small-time crook who swindles rich chicks out of measly sums amid lies about granny's declining health.
He's hot to up the ante, and he's about to learn from the master. Lawrence Jameson is Donald Trump to Benson's petty clerk, a downy über-sophisticate who has made a mega-living off his female targets. But the French Riviera ain't big enough for the both of 'em, and they eventually bet that whichever man fails to score $50,000 from the latest sucker has to get outta Dodge.
What follows is the rest of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in its stage musical world premiere at the Old Globe. The fact that a wager governs the outcome is plausible enough; the payoff stokes these crazy cons as much as the pissing match to come. The secret to success, Jameson (John Lithgow) glibly declares in one of the show's 18 numbers, is to "Give Them What They Want"-spread the honey, wait for the flies to swarm, snatch their pocketbooks and leave 'em for dead. Concealed identities, two mealy-mouthed goons, a jilted fiancée, a romantic chance meeting and a bunch of other stuff collide to turn the tables on the pair.
But there's an overexuberance to Jack O'Brien's direction and Jerry Mitchell's choreography. Jameson's deception of bride-to-be Jolene (Sara Gettelfinger) and the unlikely coupling of swinger Muriel (Joanna Gleason) and major-domo Andre (Gregory Jbara) are wonderful concepts-but they and other understories are painted so vividly that they take on too-significant lives of their own (a problem that dogged the Old Globe's otherwise excellent Don Juan last May). Themes B through Z assume the visual and musical importance of theme A, and eventually, it's harder and harder to tell which is which.
Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz have a ball as Christine Colgate and Benson. Theirs is the most fluid interaction in the show, and it evolves from the wealth of experience around them-in 2000, Globe artistic director O'Brien teamed with Mitchell and Scoundrels composer-lyricist David Yazbek to create the Globe's The Full Monty, which eventually earned 11 Tony nominations.
The Scoundrels book by Jeffrey Lane is based on the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The show is set for a January move to Broadway, where Mitchell's fun dances, Ted Sperling's music direction and David Rockwell's clever sets will likely appeal to fans of the musical form. It's a pleasant outing, with popular light comedian Lithgow (who's no singer) and Scott (who most certainly is) leading a game collective. And there's a hilarious dig at the Bush family during "All About Ruprecht," the number that introduces Benson as Jameson's weird younger brother.
But Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is also surprisingly weak in defining its points of reference, especially the visual ones. The result is a show that receives more than it gives. It's recommended, but not with any particular excitement or spontaneity.
This review is based on the matinee performance of Sept. 25. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels runs through Oct. 24 at the Old Globe mainstage. $45-$75. 619-23-GLOBE.