Not Giving Them What They Expect: Dirty Rotten Gets New Opening Number for Tour

News   Not Giving Them What They Expect: Dirty Rotten Gets New Opening Number for Tour
When the national tour of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels began its run Aug. 4 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, fans already armed with the Broadway cast album pricked up their ears.
David Yazbek
David Yazbek Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The light, jazzy opening number "Give Them What They Want," heard on Broadway, was gone — replaced by "The Only Game in Town."

Composer-lyricist David Yazbek said he's always had a niggling feeling that there was something wrong about the way the Broadway production opened.

About a year ago, he mentioned to his collaborators, librettist Jeffrey Lane, director Jack O'Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell, and producer Marty Bell, that maybe they could revisit the opening song once the tour came about.

"I wasn't even sure what I meant — I could've meant me re-writing it, me re-doing it, Jerry re-doing it," Yazbek told "I didn't know what elements were bothering me. Jeffrey always said, 'Maybe you should try to write another one.'"

In the weeks leading up to the tour rehearsals this summer, while wrestling with ideas for the new number, Yazbek faced some family troubles, including the death of his mother. The songwriter said to himself: "I can't — I just can't write this." And then, he said, "Like, two days after I gave up it just came to me. It was really weird. I wrote it pretty quickly and demo'd it and played it for everyone and they liked it. It went through a lot of little lyrical changes."

The title of the song — "The Only Game in Town," which shares its hook with an unrelated Kander & Ebb song cut from The Act — indicates smooth con man Lawrence Jameson's lish life of using women in the French Riviera town where Dirty Rotten is set. Tom Hewitt sings it on the road.

"It's a sentence that Jeffrey spit out at one point, I think a long time ago," Yazbek said. "That often is a great way to get into a song — someone says, 'I'm the only game in town,' and you go, 'whoa, that's a lyric!' It's a good hook."

How is the new song different from "Give Them What They Want"?

"It moves more like an opening number," Yazbek said. "It's not as slinky. The problem with the slinky opening number is that when you needed that blast [indicating] this is the opening number to a big musical, I felt like we had to impose that blast on it with…vocal arrangements and orchestration. It just felt like we were painting the old apartment with gold leaf. It felt a little phony. Of course, that kind of phoniness is usually the stock and trade of Broadway musicals, but every single person on our creative team from the very beginning of this show — as well as Full Monty — has said that's not our aesthetic on this show. That always sort of nagged at me."

He added, "This new one swings. From the beginning, I heard a sort of Nelson Riddle-y arrangement with lots of horn stuff. I think it moves the show at the beginning. It introduces the character and the world. The reveal of the world is more exciting. It's just more of an opening number."

The title has a double meaning: Egotistical con man Lawrence thinks he's the only game in town, and that the con is the best game in town — for him and for those he mesmerizes.

"If you're looking for a hook for a song, you're very well served to have a double or triple meaning because you've got to write a lot of verses," Yazbek said. "And remember Beaumont sur Mer is like a Monte Carlo kind of town where there is a lot of gambling. The truth is, the appeal is you’re not just gambling your money. Rich people go there to roll the dice on their lives."

There are precedents for road shows getting makeovers after launching on Broadway. Woman of the Year had new musical sequences, as did The Tap Dance Kid.

"Any number of shows have been worked on after the opening — although not all of them have gone on to tour," said Steven Suskin, a columnist who penned the lively reference book "Show Tunes" (Oxford University Press). "Songs written for the tour are sometimes put into the New York show as well, either after the tour opens or beforehand. There have even been songs written for the film version which have gone into the stage show before the movie is released. Seesaw was extensively reworked for the road (and considerably improved). On a Clear Day You Can See Forever was considerably changed, as were Big and Seussical."

Suskin said, "There was a time when these changes would quickly happen in New York — examples include Wish You Were Here and Camelot. With increasing costs, though, these changes are less likely to happen in New York. A fully-staged number like 'Give Them What They Want' would probably cost in the tens of thousands of dollars to stage. That number is full of light cues, moving props and scenery, and more. This can take hours and hours and hours to tech, with a full complement of stagehands (and actors) on overtime. Add in new orchestrations and parts, possible new costumes, and you are looking at a large dollar amount that the investors will have to absorb, so the producer has to be pretty certain that this is all worth it. For the road company, they…have to tech the whole show over again anyway — so it is a more feasible time to insert a new number."

Yazbek doesn't know if the song will eventually get inserted the Broadway production (producer Marty Bell said it's "a definite maybe"). Yazbek guessed that "The Only Game in Town" will be the opening offered when the property is eventually made available for stock and amateur licensing.

A London production is being explored for fall 2007. By that time, who knows what games will be played in that town?

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