Off-Broadstreet Theater has chosen to celebrate its 30th anniversary with a new production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” a 10-year-old musical that has been nominated for 10 Tony awards and 10 Drama Desk awards. The musical even has a local connection: John Lithgow, a Princeton High School alumnus, was a member of the original cast.
The plot centers on the complications that can arise when a group of con men not only compete but sometimes actually try to work together toward a common goal. Starting on the assumption that the group, no matter what the internal dynamics are like, will be taking advantage of the other characters, the play ends with everyone moving happily in the same direction. Along the way the 10 actors end up portraying some 31 characters.
Lawrence Jameson and his henchman, Andre, have been plying their trade at a Riviera resort for years, fleecing the rich visitors (the ones that we meet are all women: an Oklahoma oil heiress, a beauty contest winner, and a widow). But the harmony doesn’t last long. Freddy, a much younger rival con man, arrives on the scene, and the relative quiet soon gives way to a series of bets as to who can out-con the other. Their wagers lead to some zany situations, with Freddy in a wheelchair in military uniform pretending to be a cripple, and Lawrence in large horn-rimmed glasses pretending to be a Viennese psychiatrist.
With Robert Thick serving as director, and Philip Orr — who teaches and accompanies musicians at Westminster and is one of the three keyboard players — taking charge of the musical direction, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” moves along at a lively clip.
They are joined by two other keyboardists: Ron Hemmel and Steven Ryan. Hemmel, a trained organist, is active as a composer and music teacher. Ryan has been involved as a player and conductor with the Opera Festival of New Jersey and the opera companies of Princeton and Trenton. And 12-time OBT veteran Steve Pasierb plays bass in the ensemble.
As is usually the case at OBT, the music is a strong part of the show without being obtrusive.
The prize for most characters is shared by actors Sean Magnacca and Robert Risch, both of whom are responsible for seven. You can get some sense of what the play is like by seeing whom they portray: Magnacca, who made his OBT debut last summer in “Curtains,” is responsible for Man One, a croupier, a hotel concierge, a cowboy, a monk, a bellboy, and Nikos, a Greek millionaire. Risch is Man Two, Walter, another cowboy, another monk, a hotel manager, a sailor, and a policeman. Risch began at OBT as a server and went on to appear on stage, first in “I Love You Because,” and then in “Peg O’ My Heart” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
The actors are not just singing but dancing. And the dancing is highly athletic: they catch partners in mid-air and a leap over a table is breathtaking. The clever choreography is the work of Julie Thick and plays a large role in establishing the generally cheerful and positive tone of the production.
Other performers include Steve Lobis, recently seen at OBT’s “Merchant of Venice,” as Lawrence Jameson and is familiar to regulars for parts in “Moon over the Brewery,” “Man of LaMancha,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Wait until Dark,” “Twilight of the Gods,” and “Run for Your Wife.” Milika Cheree Griffiths, who played Jessica in “The Merchant of Venice,” here takes on the oil heiress and minor roles.
Three members of the cast are new to Off-Broadstreet. This includes two members of the ensemble: Emily Elliott, who plays four women, and Ally Hern, who also plays Christine. Travis Przybylski, the third newcomer, plays Freddy Benson.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, through Saturday, July 26, Fridays and Saturdays: desserts at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinee, desserts at 1:30 p.m., performance at 2:30 p.m. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.