Writer: Jeffery Lane
Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek
Director and Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell
Joining the cast of a successful West End production must be a daunting prospect at any time, but even more so when you’re taking over from one of the original cast, and are less well known than either him or other recent additions to the cast. However, if Alex Gaumond had any nerves about taking over from Rufus Hound, these were nowhere to be seen as he slipped effortlessly into the rôle of Freddy Benson and showed just why he deserves a growing reputation in musical theatre.
The show is a musical adaptation of the Michael Caine and Steve Martin movie set on the French Riveria, where an ageing conman takes a younger upstart under his wings, because he has little alternative if he wants to maintain his lifestyle and income in the face of the challenge from the new arrival. Both men bid for the affections and money of Christine Colgate, with the prize being the right to carry on their business without the competition. Robert Lindsay plays Lawrence Jameson, the rôle Caine played in the film, while Gaumond takes the Steve Martin rôle, and Katherine Kingsley plays Colgate.
The musical remains remarkably true to the plot of the film, retaining all of the key scenes while adding an array of songs that fit perfectly with the setting to create something equally as ludicrous and laugh-out-loud funny. Indeed in the first act, the humour is ramped up several notches with a superb scene where Jameson discovers that Jolene Oakes intends to marry him and take him away to live in Oklahoma. The superb song that accompanies this is delivered with a real gusto by Lizzy Connolly making a West End debut that is surely the start of a long career if this is anything to go by.
The energy levels throughout the first act are amazing. Clever one-liners, puns and in-jokes, make the script far more than something to fill the gaps between songs. The set changes are frequent and fantastic, particularly as the opulence of Jameson’s residence transforms into the basement level bedroom where Benson is pretending to be his very dumb brother, and the choreography is both very slick and very clever, affectionately parodying many tropes of musical theatre, rom-coms and Western movies.
Act Two can’t quite reach the same high standards. The sub-plot between Andre Thibault and Muriel Eubanks, played by fellow newcomers to the cast, Gary Wilmot and Bonnie Langford, has its moments, but feels more like a diversion from the main feature, and the set changes and choreography get less impressive as the action and comedy focuses on lengths the two men go to to woo Colgate and outsmart each other. There are still some classic moments, however, particularly ‘Love is My Legs’ which pastiches every love song ever written and comes complete with Mariah Carey style vocal gymnastics to round off something both sublimely ridiculous and utterly hilarious.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels succeeds where other recent high-profile musicals have failed because it is shameless, all-out, entertainment that knows how to strike the right chord at every turn and continually delivers the goods. It is slick, funny, with excellent songs, and fantastic performances from all of the cast and ensemble. Apart from the drop in pace in the second half and a feeling that, by following the movie plot as closely as they have, they have missed a better point to cut the action and end the story, it has everything you could want from a night in the West End.
Bookinguntil 7 March, 2015| Photo Johan Persson