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Travis Grams as Freddy Benson, left, and Aaron Mann as Lawrence Jameson perform in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at the Arts United Center.

Good time, upbeat musical

Civic's 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' a show about fun on French Riviera

The French Riviera, with its picture-perfect Mediterranean coastline, makes for a beautiful (not to mention expensive) vacation destination.

Luckily, the Civic Theater’s production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” Saturday brings pieces of the Riviera to the city – even if those pieces are reconfigurable background sets.

For some of the cast, working on the show has been sort of a getaway before theater season goes into full swing.

Craig Humphrey, IPFW theater professor and director behind “Into the Woods” last season, and “The Fantasticks” in September, says directing “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a breath of pure fun between two more dramatically complex musicals.

“I keep telling every one this show is about nothing other than having a good time; this one is just about the fun,” he says. “It’s set on the French Riviera, and it’s full of wonderfully charming characters and the songs are fun and upbeat. It’s a little irreverent and it’s just a good time.”

Based on the 1988 film and the 2005 Tony-nominated Broadway adaptation, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” centers on the suave Lawrence Jameson and his unrefined, yet clever partner Freddy Benson. The two make a living of swindling money from wealthy women. However, when the French town isn’t big enough for two con men, they agree the first one to bag $50,000 from young heiress Christine Colgate gets to stay in town.

Humphrey says he needed a cast that was comically adept as well as musical.

“I was looking for actors who can sing the score, which is deceptively difficult. It doesn’t sound nearly as difficult as it is and it’s comedy in a number of ways; there’s a whole range. Sometimes it’s very witty, sometimes it’s very broad and it’s always a little cheesy,” he says. “The show also breaks the fourth wall all the time so the characters interact with the orchestra, the audience – there’s all these levels. I ended up with some very talented people.”

Humphrey’s two leading men are Aaron Mann as Lawrence, and Travis Grams as Freddy. Humphrey says that he was familiar with Mann’s work from his time at IPFW, while Grams was a new performer to the theater company.

“That’s one of the things I love about directing elsewhere other than IPFW. I get the opportunity to work with people I normally don’t get to,” Humphrey says.

He was especially delighted to see Renee Gonzales attend auditions for the role of Christine – a part she fell in love with when she saw the musical in New York City.

Gonzales had been working in New York for eight years, performing for a jazz cabaret, and national and regional show tours, until she decided to return to Fort Wayne for a sabbatical this summer.

“I was a little homesick, and it was good to see family and relax. I also wanted to get back into the theater community,” she says. “There’s a lot of auditioning in New York, and I’m really enjoying just performing again. I don’t care if I’m paid as long as I’m doing musicals. It’s my true passion.”

Returning to the Civic, where she says she first began her interest in musicals, Gonzales also brought back some learned lessons from working in New York’s theater world.

“I would say there is competition in New York, but it made you learn to have confidence and to take notes easily. Nothing personally affects me anymore. I can take what they give me and work with it quickly,” she says. “You learn how to listen to other people. I think the main thing I’ve learned in New York is that every one wants to be heard and valued.”

Gonzales says the cast’s mix of theater vets and rookies have the advantage in working with a director who has experience in all facets of theater because it helps hone the energetic show.

Humphrey says he hopes the audience has just as much fun as he is.

“I hope they sit there with smiles on their faces and laugh when they’re supposed to,” he says, laughing. “I just want them to walk out and say, ‘That was a good time and it was money well spent.’ ”