Appearing in CATCO’s production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are (from left): Todd Covert, Liz Wheeler, Joe Bishara, Matt Clemens and Susan Bunsold Wilson (photo courtesy of CATCO)



If The Miracle Worker had a male lead, Matt Clemens would be perfect for the part.

In the past year, I’ve seen two theater productions that forced me to upgrade my opinions of the musicals in question. The first was Sunday in the Park With George at Short North Stage; the second was CATCO’s current staging of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The one thing the productions have in common is that Clemens was cast as the male lead. To be sure, both shows have many other fine attributes, but it’s hard to overestimate the actor’s contributions. Not only does he sing like an angel—a fallen angel in the CATCO show—but he imbues his characters with enormous appeal.

In Scoundrels, David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane’s stage adaptation of a 1988 movie, he plays a huckster named Lawrence who poses as a prince in order to prey on wealthy women vacationing on the French Riviera. Despite this morally bankrupt occupation, Clemens somehow convinces us Lawrence is a basically decent guy who’s worthy of our attention. Neat trick.

Other cast members also shine under Steven C. Anderson’s spirited direction. The most prominent are Joe Bishara as Freddy, a neophyte con artist who asks to become Lawrence’s disciple, and Liz Wheeler as Christine, the American “soap queen” who becomes their next intended victim. Wheeler uncharacteristically hit a few pitchy notes at the preview performance I attended, but her portrayal is an irresistible blend of warmth and naiveté.

Strong support is offered by Todd Covert as Andre, the corrupt police chief who serves as Lawrence’s cohort; Susan Bunsold Wilson as Muriel, an early target of their scams; and Alexa Joy Rybynski as the folksy Jolene, who is intent on marrying Lawrence and dragging him back to her native Oklahoma.

Multiple bit parts are handled with class and verve by Rybynski, Annie Huckaba, Beth Conley and the hilariously chameleon-like Andrew Protopapas.

Britton Mauk’s set is a colorful two-tiered affair, but it’s not quite clear why the first floor’s decorations incorporate the naughty numbers “69” and “666.” Marcia Hain’s costumes are fun and stylish.

It must be said that though I liked CATCO’s version of Scoundrels better than the touring production I saw years ago, the musical still has its flaws. The worst is that it overstays its welcome, dragging things out with a romantic subplot and last-minute twist that aren’t all that compelling.

The music is kind of fun, though, especially when it spoofs genres such as operetta and country. Unfortunately, CATCO’s production features canned accompaniment rather than a live band, but Anderson and his actors don’t let it drag them down. Somehow, they manage to remain in perfect sync with the prerecorded instrumentals without ever appearing to be at their mercy.

Once again, neat trick.


CATCO will present Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through Aug. 10 in Studio One, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St. Show times are 11 a.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $11.50 for Wednesday matinees, $30 on Thursdays, $45 Fridays and Saturdays, and $41 Sundays. 614-469-0939 or