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Great Big Loot 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ummer in Beaumont sur Mer, a glamorous resort on the French Riviera. The season is just beginning.... And the con men are swarming. Lawrence Jamison, "a debonair British con artist posing as the deposed prince of a fictional country," targets wealthy women: Couldn't they help him regain his throne with just a trifling sum of money? Say, $20,000?





But Jamison has a rival: a vulgar American and two-bit swindler named Freddy Benson (played by Steve Martin in the 1988 movie; Michael Caine played the suave Englishman). The plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels recounts the ways in which Freddy and Lawrence plot and scheme and invade each other's scams, all for the sake of staking out superiority. (Getting the money and the girl would be nice, too.)





Spokane must be a con man magnet, because the second (non-Equity) Dirty Rotten national tour (Oct. 30-Nov. 4 at the INB Center) arrives here just 13 months after the show ended its Broadway run. Let's unravel the complicated schemes of two swindlers, musical number by musical number.





Lawrence Gives the Girls What They Want


If music be the food of love / He ate my smorgasbord. / What was a woman to do? Lawrence (played by John Lithgow on Broadway) has been separating wealthy widows from their money for some time now. For the national tours, composer and lyricist David Yazbek (The Full Monty) has switched the opening number from "Give Them What They Want" (which emphasizes Lawrence's trickiness) to "The Only Game in Town" (with emphasis on his suave style). But we need to see an example of his power over the ladies -- and Muriel (expanded from a minor character in the movie for the musical) and the women's chorus oblige with a song about Lawrence's irresistibility.





From Petty Scams to "Great Big Stuff"


I'm tired of being a chump / I wanna be like Trump -- / Two hundred pounds of caviar in one gigantic lump. Freddy pops up as a rival, however, posing as a poor guy who's just trying to raise some cash for his grandmother. Once Freddy eyeballs the riches in Lawrence's villa, however, he turns into a flaming tower of greed. The ensemble -- dressed as bellhops, butlers and maids -- scurry around as Freddy's lust jumps from one item to the next. "They're all around me," says Doug Thompson, who plays Freddy the grifter in this production. "At one point, I jump into their arms and they hold me up above their heads. We play it that they're part of my fantasy. They all live inside my head."





Lawrence's right-hand man, however, sniffs at such piggishness. Andre (eventually the love interest for Muriel) regards Freddy as nothing more than a "Chimp in a Suit."





Scamming Jolene


And I'll be so happy since / I'm bringing home a prince / To my little piece of heaven, Oklahoma. Since the audience needs to see Lawrence in full scam mode, we witness how he reels in a wealthy American woman. But the plan backfires, because Jolene turns out to be a bossy cowgirl intent on hauling Lawrence back to the bumpkins: "Watch what you step in / Because those cattle eat their share / And it's gotta go somewhere." Yazbek reverses a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein song, undermining it hilariously.





Getting Rid of Jolene


The Bushes of Tex / Were nervous wrecks / Because their son was dim. / But look what happened to him! Every family "carries a bit of a curse," says Lawrence. (Even presidential families.) His own personal cross to bear? His brother Ruprecht -- impersonated by Freddy as a whacked-out vulgarian. The two con men have joined forces: Jolene's got to be convinced not to marry into this family.





In "All About Ruprecht," Thompson has to compete, of course, with moviegoers' mental images of Steve Martin asking permission to relieve himself under the dinner table. Dirty Rotten finds its own musical ways of portraying just how low Freddy is willing to go.





Since Thompson's playing a con man, there's got to be a temptation to rip off other actors like -- oh, I don't know, the guy who won a Tony in this role, Norbert Leo Butz. "I'm not copying him," says Thompson. "I did see his performance, but that was also about two and a half years ago. A lot of people have said that especially in the Ruprecht scene, I'm doing things that are completely different -- and I'm glad."





As for what things, Thompson's not giving anything away. Con men don't reveal their secrets.





The Wager


Excusez-moi if I spout / I'm letting my je ne sais quoi out / I'm sorry to shout / But here I am! What con men do is compete. And when Christine Colgate, the beautiful young (and wealthy!) "American Soap Queen" breathlessly arrives in France, Freddy and Lawrence place their bets: Whoever first swindles Christine out of $50,000 gets to stay in Beaumont sur Mer.





The Ol' Crippled Soldier Ruse


Magic can happen anywhere. / I knew this guy at camp who ate his T-shirt on a dare. / My hotel gives away free shampoo. / Nothing is too wonderful to be true. Freddy moves first. Pretending to be a Sergeant Buzz Benson -- who has been paralyzed from the waist down and is now seeking a miracle cure -- he pries money from klutzy, na & iuml;ve Christine. Freddy's boorishness collides with Christine's idealism in "Nothing Is Too Wonderful": She sings about romance while he sings about ... other people getting humiliated.





The Trickster Tricked


Buzz, who is the one person in the entire world you would most like to see at this moment? Christine's question reveals how Lawrence has found a way to upset Freddy's plans: The scammer gets scammed. During a number called "The Miracle," the hopes and dreams of the three main characters (well, a couple of them anyway) are seemingly fulfilled. At least until after intermission.





Even Scammers Have Subtexts


Look at the way the moon behaves / Look at the way she paints / A silver ribbon on the waves / Leading directly to me and you. Christine may offer visions of romance, but all Freddy wants is Great Big Loot. He's trying to fill a hole ... in himself. Director Phil McKinley, says Thompson, talked about the characters' darker sides quite a bit: "Freddy didn't have a family -- he was raised by his grandmother, and he was lonely. Eventually, as we progress through the show, what everybody discovers is that all three main characters don't really have families."





Scamming is a way to fill a need, then. Their complicated second-act counterattacks will not be spoiled for you here. But the dirty rotten scoundrels turn out to be human after all.





Dirty Rotten Scoundrels will hoodwink us on Tuesday-Thursday, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, at 7:30 pm; Friday, Nov. 2, at 8 pm; Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm at the INB Center. They'll swipe $30-$60 from your wallet. Visit www.bestofbroadwayspokane.com or call 325-SEAT.

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