February 2012

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Hilton Head Prep Presents Some Robust Fun

Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Until a couple of months ago it’s possible there wasn’t a single dirty rotten scoundrel at Hilton Head Preparatory School. Now there are at least 27 of them. All will be on stage at the Visual and Performing Arts Center (VPAC) at Hilton Head Island High School, Feb. 16-19, singing, dancing, speaking in German, French and Spanish dialects and performing the stage version of the well-known 1988 movie, starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin as—you guessed it— Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Transforming the movie into a Broadway musical was the work of lyricist and composer David Yazbek and director Jack O’Brien, who had done the same for Hairspray and The Full Monty. Bringing the Broadway version to Hilton Head Island is the brainchild of Benjamin Wolfe, Hilton Head Prep’s performing arts director, who was looking for a counterpoint to Prep’s last performance, The Sound of Music, which closed in early December to rave reviews and attracted record-setting audiences.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels certainly is different in tone and tenor from The Sound of Music. In fact, Wolfe says Scoundrels will be rated PG-13 for “a little language.” Its clever dialogue and complicated chorus work may also challenge audience members to pay careful attention (and perhaps even plan to attend twice) to pick up on all the plot twists and witty repartee.

“It’s ridiculously funny,” Wolfe said. “You should come prepared to be laughing the entire night. Just when you think you’ve got the jokes figured out, they hit you from another angle. It’s just great fun.”

Of the 27 “scoundrels” on stage, six main characters will carry about 90 percent of 140 pages of dialogue. The play is set in the French Riviera, where the two main scoundrels, Lawrence (the Michael Caine character, played by Mark Oppenheimer) and Freddie (the Steve Martin character, played by Tyler Williams), develop a competition to see who can con the lovely American soap opera star Christine (played by Prep’s Alli Kenneweg, who also played Maria in The Sound of Music) out of $50,000. Their styles contrast dramatically—Lawrence the smooth sophisticate and Freddie the clueless and clumsy—but the competition sets the stage for comedy.

Staging Scoundrels is a challenge, with 25 set changes, compared to 12 or 13 for Sound of Music, according to Wolfe. A lot of the scenery will be representative, with fly-in backdrops to make it all work. The Sound of Music sets were actually built for different scenes, whereas with Scoundrels, the staging has to get creative. At one point, characters will even be acting in different areas of the auditorium. Still, the scene construction team, also directed by Wolfe, will likely pack three rental trucks full for transport to the VPAC as rehearsals head into their final days.

“I teach scene construction, and we have a whole method,” Wolfe said. “We have orange duct tape and they all know that orange taped boxes go to the theater. They have it all organized. We’re breeding a nice crew of roadies here.”

Technically, this play will also break new ground for Prep with junior Kelsey Izzillo again serving as stage manager. For Sound of Music, Izzillo called nearly 600 cues and Scoundrels will likely entail many more since it’s significantly more complicated.

“Kelsey does an amazing job,” Wolfe said. “I can listen in on the headset and hear her call the entire show. She’s like ‘standby chandelier, standby light 239, standby this, standby that.’”

Arts Center of Coastal Carolina’s lighting designer Brian Riley is managing lighting design for the production. Since there are 17 production numbers, Ken Reynolds, director of the Hilton Head Choral Society, has been hired to help with musical production, assisted by Janice Creech.

The production schedule runs nine weeks and will become concentrated just before the first performance on Feb. 16. It’s not uncommon for the cast and crew to have an 8 a.m.-10 p.m. call when it comes to crunch time, including the Saturday and Sunday before opening and full dress rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“They’re really dedicated,” Wolfe said of the students. “I’m demanding, but they want it bad enough that they don’t buckle. A lot happens in this show—dancing and singing and moving set pieces, sometime all at the same time. It’s a lot of stress and exhausting, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The main characters concur.

Mark Oppenheimer, who plays Lawrence, and his brother Adam, who plays Andre, the police detective, both have been practicing accents for their roles. “For me, the trick in the whole show is to maintain a completely different accent—a mixture of English in high-class style and for a good quarter of the play a goofy German accent that includes everything from snappy dialogue to musical numbers,” Mark said. “Nowhere in the show will I actually speak in my ordinary voice.”

Adam has been working to perfect a French accent for the police detective, playing a role he says provides comic relief. “There are times when the tension gets high and there’s a lot of drama,” he said. “But the jokes are fast and smart. It’s fun watching these two idiots battling over a woman.”

This will be Kenneweg’ s fifth leading role in a row, including parts in Grease, Little Shop of Horrors and Footloose as well as Sound of Music and now Scoundrels. Mark Oppenheimer calls her the “celebrity” and the “experienced professional” in the cast.

Kenneweg’s favorite role so far was playing Audrey in Little Shop, but she’s finding that dancing is her favorite part of the Scoundrels production. “Dance rehearsals are always funny,” she said. “I like the play and I like that it has a surprise ending, but I’m not giving that away.”

Kenneweg is especially good at goofy slapstick comedy, according to Wolfe, and in Scoundrels, he says, she does that really well. “The ending is a thrill,” Wolfe said. “It has the greatest plot twist, and it’s delivered in one line. The audience is going to love it.”

The greater community is invited and everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend the play, which is open to the public. “The ones who love us are going to love us anyway,” Wolfe said. “Our goal is to put out a production that will appeal to a wide audience, not just those who feed and clothe us.”

Performances of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will take place Feb. 16-19 at the Visual and Performing Arts Center at Hilton Head Island High School. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday is a 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and children and can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information, call (843) 671-2286.

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