Book: Jeffrey Lane
Music and Lyrics: David Tazbek
Director: Jerry Mitchell
Musical Director: Ben Van Tienen
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Theatrical comfort food seems to be flavour of the month at the moment. As times are tough, venues and audiences take solace in the familiar. That’s not to say new musicals can’t pack them in. Much like The Smallest Show On Earth,which is currently on the road, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an odd mix, a new musical, based on a classic film that still manages to be fresh.
Okay, so it’s not exactly new, having premiered on Broadway over a decade ago, and now taking to the road on a first UK tour following an acclaimed West End run. The show may centre around a pair of con artists but its good-natured charm and, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it’s hard not to be won over by the warm charms of this French Riviera farce.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks but, for successful conman Lawrence Jameson, there is a chance for the old dog to teach a new pup the tricks of the trade. When young chancer Freddy Benson heads onto his patch he sees the chance to obtain a protégé but student soon turns teacher as young Freddy unveils a few tricks of his own.
It’s a framework that Jeffrey Lane’s book milks for all of its comedy gold, playing with our expectations of both cinema comedies and musical theatre. There’s knowing winks to both genre’s and enough ‘in-jokes’ to keep ardent movie and theatre buffs enthralled. Private Lives, Oklahoma,My Fair Lady and even director Jerry Mitchell’s previous hit Legally Blonde all lovingly mocked.
Lawrence and Freddy make an unlikely odd couple but the material is pure gold for any performer and Kevin Stephen-Jones (stepping into the lead for an indisposed Michael Praed) and former Hear’Say star Noel Sullivan milk the material for every drop. It’s a perfect pairing and surprisingly full of chemistry given the impromptu replacement of one of the leads. Stephen-Jones steps into Praed’s shoes with aplomb, perfect comic timing matched with a beautiful sense of self-importance.
Sullivan threatens on several occasions to steal the show with his beautifully pitched Freddy. It’s a continuation of Sullivan’s re-invention as a musical theatre performer and one that demonstrates not only his ability to belt a tune out across the footlights but deliver a piece of physical comedy that is as mesmerising.
It is not just the lads, however, that have all the fun. Carley Stenson proving more than a match for the dodgy duo, with her washing powder wielding Christine.
There’s also fine support from Gerladine Fitzgerald and Gary Wilmot as a surprising love interest, while Phoebe Coupe’s Dolly Parton-esque appropriately named Jolene threatens to bring the house down with anexuberant hoedown.
Mitchell’s direction and choreography showcases his dance background but there’s a detail here beyond mere fancy footwork, characters are plotted carefully and while we are drawn into the increasingly absurd world of con and counter-con he never forgets that this is a piece of entertainment. It’s a treat for eye, ear and brain and Mitchell deploys his troops with ingenious precision, utilising Peter McKintosh’s designs to give the required Riviera glamour and a few surprised along the route.
David Yazbek’s score is tuneful and witty, reflecting the bygone days of the Hollywood musical and is delivered with vigour under Ben Van Tien’s musical direction. The score is, perhaps, the only slight drawback in the entire venture. While entertaining enough, there’s not any numbers you’ll really be humming the following day or that would stand alone without the stage framework.
Perhaps that doesn’t matter. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels never pretends to be anything other than a beautifully crafted stage musical and for two and three-quarters of an hour, it whisks audience to the South of France on a laugh a minute adventure, and there’s nothing rotten in that!
Runs until 17 October 2015 and continues to tour| Image:Alastair Muir