Book: Jeffrey Lane
Music and Lyrics: David Yazbek
Director: Jerry Mitchell
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
Based on the 1988 film, Robert Lindsay stars as Lawrence Jameson, a playboy con-man drifting around the French Rivera, seducing women, breaking hearts and stealing cold hard cash. Growing long in the tooth, and no longer getting the same buzz that drove him from one conquest to another, Jameson’s world is shaken up when Freddie Benson, a pretender to the con-man throne, crashes into his luxurious life and demands to be shown the ropes.
Making a musical these day is a tough challenge. With the West End so saturated by re-hashed versions of old stories, it is no wonder that so many productions fold within the first few months. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels however, book writer Jeffrey Lane and lyricist David Yazbek may well be onto a winner. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell who was responsible for the highly successful Legally Blonde musical, this is a smooth and flowing production with memorable songs, excellent orchestration and beautifully designed sets and costumes from Peter McKintosh. Like the French Rivera at the height of its decadent fame, everything about this production is easy on the eye, from Lindsay’s sharply cut suits, to the shimmering, sequined gowns of the female chorus.
Things take a while to warm up in the first act, and Lindsay initially seems a little awkward, despite many amusing interjections from his suave right-hand-man Andre Thibault, played by John Marquez. But when we are introduced to Jameson’s conning ways as he seeks to extricate money from a charmingly sincere and ditzy Samantha Bond, things start to come together and it is clear that Lindsay is at his best when he has someone else to riff off of. Rufus Hound, last seen in One Man, Two Guvnors, proves to be an excellent sidekick and the pair really do look like they’re having a lot of fun together, revelling in the sun-kissed silliness of it all.
After attempting to show Freddie the ropes and getting himself into a tangle with Lizzy Connolly’s show-stealing Oklahoma gal, Jolene Oakes, Lawrence decides the town really isn’t big enough for the both of them and proposes a winner-takes-all bet, involving 50,000 pounds, a soap queen and a dodgy Austrian doctor. Katherine Kingsley is excellent as Christine Colgate, the clean-cut, all-American girl who they try to make their victim and proves to be the best singer of the night.
If there is anywhere this musical goes astray though, it is in the mix of old-school charm and modernity that it tries to negotiate. While modern references make the audience laugh they make for a slightly confused tone as the cast jumps from mid 20th century charm to references to euros and Robert Lindsay’s former stint as a dentist. The second act though soon wipes away any awkwardness that remained from the first, with a great selection of romantic song and dance numbers and pitch-perfect performances all round.
Like the con-men at its centre, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is as slick and glossy as musicals come, and in the end it is impossible not to be charmed by it. Mitchell has clearly cherry-picked his production team and got the best out of each of them, making this musical as glossy and shimmering as the moonlit Rivera.
Runs until 29th November