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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

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Yes, it’s another musical adapted from a movie the 1988 Michael Caine/Steve Martin comedy, and yes, it’s one of a stream of recent shows in the genre that appear to bypass the family market and aim for an adult audience. So the question is – will Dirty Rotten Scoundrels go the way of From Here to Eternity and Stephen Ward or go the distance like The Book of Mormon, Once and The Commitments?

It has taken quite a while for Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s show to reach the UK, having opened on Broadway in 2005 where it ran for 626 performances. The choreographer on that production was Jerry Mitchell – a 2013 Tony award-winner for the musical Kinky Boots – who now returns both in that role and as director. What London audiences are treated to then is a ‘reimagined’ version of the show that the producers tried out in Manchester and Aylesbury beforehand. The result is a slick piece of theatre that flows from one scene to another, showcasing a high-profile cast of leading players.

Peter McKintosh’s set splendidly evokes a fantasy vision of the French Riviera, as well as the luxurious world in which high-class conman Lawrence Jameson Robert Lindsay has made himself a fortune convincing wealthy women to contribute to his plight as the prince of a revolution-stricken, non-existent country. All is well in Jameson’s neatly packaged life until Rufus Hound’s small-time swindler Freddy Benson turns up and causes mischief. Knowing there is only room in town for one of them, the men make a bet – whoever is the first to con heiress Christine Colgate Katherine Kingsley out of $50,000 gets to stick around.

This scenario allows for all kinds of hilarious shenanigans delivered at a zany pace, accompanied by Yazbek’s reasonably catchy score and Lane’s amusing libretto. However, the humour depends entirely on the central characters’ superficiality. With no hint of any depth or integrity until a quick change of heart during the final stages, the joke can wear thin after a while.

What is likely to redeem the show though are the main performances, and in particular Lindsay as Jameson. The actor’s appearances in musical theatre may have been few and far between Me and My Girl, Oliver!, but he and the genre fit hand in glove. Not only does he sing and dance with ease, he also manages to mix vulnerability with sophistication and charisma. It is harder for Hound to squeeze any warmth out of the greed and vulgarity synonymous with Benson, but he is often saved by his comic timing and chemistry with Lindsay. Kingsley’s role is really just a conduit for the two crooks to make mischief, but the actress still manages to hold her own as the comedy becomes increasingly outlandish.

In Act II there is an injection of romance, perhaps to try to instil some heart into the proceedings, as Samantha Bond’s glamorous divorcee Muriel Eubanks and Jameson’s right hand man Andre Thibault John Marqeuz fall in love. It’s a bit late in the day, but there is a certain charm to the pairing. Also deserving mention is Lizzy Connolly in her West End debut as brash Oklahoma heiress Jolene Oakes. The actress’ comic invention during her big production number is a highlight.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a good old-fashioned musical comedy packed with plenty of self-referential humour, but it is also quite forgettable. Ultimately, its success will depend on audiences wanting to spend two and a half hours with a pair of shallow conmen.

Lisa Martland

  • Savoy Theatre, London
  • April 1-November 29
  • Authors: Jeffrey Lane book, David Yazbek music, lyrics
  • Director/choreographer: Jerry Mitchell
  • Musical director: Richard John
  • Producers: Howard Panter, Adam Speers, Ambassador Theatre Group, Jerry Mitchell Productions, Tulchin/Bartner Productions, Seol, BB Group GMBH, Just For Laughs Theatricals, Glass Half Full Productions, Judith Ann Abrams
  • Cast includes: Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound, Katherine Kingsley, Samantha Bond, John Marquez, Lizzy Connolly
  • Running time: 2hrs 35mins

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The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.