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‘Dirty rotten’ musical

The national touring show arrives next Tuesday

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New York City-based actor D.B. Bonds says Salt Lake City holds a special place in his heart, as it was an audition here that kick-started his career.

Bonds co-stars as small-time con-man Freddy Benson in the national touring company of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." The musical begins a run in the Capitol Theatre on Tuesday.

But in 1995, Bonds was performing in "Forever Plaid" in the Utah Musical Theatre in Ogden when he saw an audition notice "that really changed everything."

Open auditions were being held in Salt Lake City for the national touring production of "Les Miserables." At the time, Bonds was planning to head back to Florida and return to school. Instead, he was picked to join the "Les Miserables" cast and he became a professional Equity performer.

"I have been very lucky to have worked relatively steadily onstage," he said by phone from St. Louis, Mo., "and this is what I was going to school for."

Bonds will celebrate his 32nd birthday on April 29, the final day of "Scoundrels"' weeklong Utah engagement. "This really is a fun show, much different from 'Phantom of the Opera' and 'Les Miserables.' But it's a dream role to get to play Freddy every night. 'Scoundrels' is not quite the religious experience that 'Les Miserables' was, but it's a good, eclectic week of theater."

Before joining the cast of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," Bonds was involved with the off-Broadway production of a musical with deep Utah roots — Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly's short-lived "The Ark." "McLean is a wonderful man, but the show was a tough sell for New York audiences."

It did, however, give Bonds an opportunity to work on his first original-cast recording.

Executive producer Marty Bell, who was also involved with the development of such Broadway hits as "Ragtime," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Fosse," visited Salt Lake City a while back to meet with the local press and conduct a question-and-answer session with theater students at the University of Utah.

"It's hard to know these days exactly who is a 'producer,' since everyone who invests in the show can be called a producer," Bell told the Deseret Morning News. "I'm the hands-on producer, I guess, since I started working with the creators (composer David Yazbek and writer Jeffrey Lane) to develop the script. Then I hire the rest of the design team, fund the workshops and readings, get the paperwork together to raise the money, work with the lawyers, raise more money, cast the show and try to keep the show in budget.

"Then I throw a big opening-night bash and everyone else disappears except me. It's my baby for as long as it goes. You just hope the critics praise it."

Bell said that getting a musical up and running isn't quite the "fun" that was portrayed in the old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies. "It's about 25 percent joy — and that's the creative process. And about 75 percent drudgery — slogging it out, selling tickets, fighting with agents, keeping the costs in line and trying to keep your investors happy.

"The premise for 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' is the same as the 1988 movie. The best thing is to base a musical on a flawed movie. You don't see any musicals based on 'Casablanca.' This has two bigger-than-life characters — a British con-man who makes his living fleecing wealthy women and a lower-class slob. Harold Hill (from 'The Music Man') is the measuring stick. You want to build musicals around aggressive people."

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" was first developed at the not-for-profit Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where it played for eight weeks. Then it was worked on for another seven weeks before opening on Broadway, where it played for 18 months.

"The joy isn't always Broadway," said Bell. "That's just where you establish the brand. The joy is getting a show out to the rest of the world, and the real joy is when it trickles down to the high schools."

In addition to the current U.S. tour, "Scoundrels" has played in Japan, Brazil and Mexico City and is opening in Scandinavia.

"When 'Scoundrels" first went on tour," he said, "we tried to replicate the Broadway show with the full physical production and cast, but we found it was too expensive for some markets. On the road you have to worry about the market where a show will do the worst, not the best. So we closed the tour down for four weeks and worked on lowering the costs."

It reopened in mid-January in Wisconsin with an all-new "tiered" Equity contract and a few modifications in scenery, sound and lighting, the latter of which trimmed two hours off the time it normally took to load the scenery and costumes into each theater. "But the show still looks beautiful," Bell said.

Bell, who has teamed up with director Hal Prince on several times before, is again working with Prince on his newest major Broadway project — "LoveMusik," an original musical about the marriage of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya. It was written by Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy") and stars Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris in the leading roles. Preview performances began April 12 and the official opening is May 3.

If you go ...

What: "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South

When: Tuesday through April 29, times vary

How much: $30-$72.50

Phone: 355-27871

Web site:www.arttix.org

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com