Two musicals opened in Naples recently, as different as they can be. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Sugden Community Theatre is a good production of a mediocre musical, which takes advantage of the facilities there to create some razzle-dazzle. “Blood Brothers” at TheatreZone is an excellent production of a very serious musical play which turns the small space in the G&L Theatre to advantage by allowing a focus on the drama.
First, “Blood Brothers.” This play has been running in London for decades. We saw it in its first incarnation, then it closed, then it reopened a few years later and has been running ever since. I found it somewhat overbearing at first viewing, with a moral message about class that is peculiarly British, and an artificial story line, concerning twins separated at birth raised in different environments, who come to tragic ends. There is a narrator who spouts doggerel verse to fill in the gaps in the story and drive the polemics, in case you missed it.
Happily, the TheatreZone production manages to de-emphasize the politico-economic issue and highlight the human action. The acting is outstanding. The actors who play the twins from 6 to 30-ish are excellent and well matched. Their scenes demonstrating the common traits of twins — who don’t know they are twins — are amusing and well played. The narrator role is treated fluidly. Andrea McArdle, back again at TheatreZone, plays the big star role of the twins’ mother with passion, eschewing glamour for the kind of kitchen-sink grittiness required. The audience appreciated the production as it should have.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is based on the movie of the same name, and like some other musicals based on movies does not make an entirely smooth transition. The music is mostly forgettable, and the script is not as well constructed for life theater as it might be.
I was somewhat prejudiced here having seen Jonathan Price and Norman Leo Butz lift up the show in New York with thoroughly masterful outsized performances and a spontaneous ad-libbed quality. For all its limitations, this was a musical comedy that was really funny.
The players at the Sugden do not have the assurance to raise up the play to those levels of hilarity, and the weaknesses of the play are more apparent. The ironic humor in some of the sections did not come through, or the Naples audience was not attuned to it. But the production was lively. The chorus and dancers were outstanding as were the costumes, and everyone had fun.