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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Book by Jeffrey Lane, music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Opera House, Manchester
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Like Jersey Boys, which will open its first UK tour in Manchester later this year, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the musical began life in San Diego, California in 2004 before moving to Broadway the following year.

It lasted a year and a half in the Big Apple, but has popped up in touring productions around the world ever since. It's UK première, like a few other shows recently, opens at Manchester's Opera House prior to a run on the West End.

Based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, the show is about two conmen working the tourists on the French Riviera. Lawrence Jameson is the senior of the two, a suave, well-dressed Englishman who has a regular income from persuading rich, female tourists that he is a prince who needs funds to fight a civil war in his country. As it is a tourist resort, each week brings a new rich lady to fleece.

Freddy Benson is young and hungry (literally as well as figuratively) and is eager to learn from the master, but as a slovenly American he couldn't be more different from his mentor. Lawrence agrees to take him on, but the tuition inevitably becomes increasingly competitive. This comes to a head with the arrival of Christine Colgate, the "American Soap Queen", over whose money they compete, but for whom they both fall romantically.

It has to be said that the show is a lot of fun and has the perfect cast. Robert Lindsay is used to making terrible lines sound funny in his sitcom roles, and the hit rate of gags in this script is certainly substantially higher than in My Family, plus the role of the debonair but naughty Englishman is something he could play in his sleep. However he is matched all the way by a brilliantly funny and occasionally moving performance by Rufus Hound as the American sidekick.

There is another very impressive performance from Katherine Kingsley as Christine, with a stunning belt voice reminiscent of Jodie Prenger, who was in the audience on press night. John Marquez is also very good as Lawrence's assistant and a coy love interest, André Thibault, and newcomer Lizzy Connolly makes a big impression as oil heir from Oklahoma Jolene Oakes.

However it doesn't come across as a script that has been ten years or more in development as there are a lot of rough edges. The opening is a bit vague and confusing, the character of Muriel Eubanks, despite a confident performance from Samantha Bond, serves no real purpose in the main plot and then has a superfluous romantic subplot that wasn't in the film and some of the songs actually get in the way of the story instead of helping to tell it. The arrival of Christine, arguably the main focus of the plot, doesn't come until nearly halfway through, which means that most of act I is just the setup.

There are lots of those "we know we're in a musical" lines with knowing winks to the audience that work so well in Spamalot but don't always come off here. Some of the updated and Anglicised gags are often a little crude, in both senses of the word, which is a shame as apart from a few swear words this could be the perfect family show.

It's unfair to judge a musical's catchiness from a single listen, but few of the songs really stayed with me. I did come out singing the last song, "Dirty Rotten Number", and I don't think it was just because it was the last song. There were some elements of the songs, setting and plot that reminded me of the Jule Styne Some Like It Hot musical (originally called Sugar), which certainly isn't a bad thing.

Despite its flaws, this is great fun to watch, plus you can see three major stars doing what they do best right here in the north west before it gets to the West End, not in a cut-down, post-London touring version.

Reviewer: David Chadderton