Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the Musical
Book by Jeffrey Lane, music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Writers of every imaginable variety have utilised conmen to titivate audiences for centuries. Even so, it does feel as if the 21st Century might be the heyday of the genre as TV and movies are overrun with specimens in every shape and size.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels utilises every cliché possible and attempts to entice fans of the 1988 movie, which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin, by converting it to the stage.
The problem with this delayed transfer from Broadway (where it opened almost 10 years ago) is the irredeemable weakness of the book, where every twist and turn including the final shocking revelation are obvious, often ages before they come to fruition.
The leading characters are Lawrence Jameson aka the Prince, a suave gentleman con artist, played by Robert Lindsay as the archetypal British gent, and Freddy, an uncouth American student of the art portrayed by Rufus Hound.
They team up in a luxurious Riviera hotel, where Lawrence is plying his dishonest trade at the expense of a series of stylish women, including Samantha Bond's dim but well-spoken Muriel Eubanks.
Helping the English trickster with his nefarious activities is John Marquez as Andre, who incongruously doubles as the local police chief and gets a curvy consolation prize at the end of one of the evening's main subplots.
Before that, Lawrence and Freddy wage a bet as to which of them can hook the American Soap Queen (not what either you or they naturally think). Christine Colgate is given leggy charm by Katherine Kingsley, who also has the best voice on display by a considerable way. The diva demonstrates this throughout, captivating the audience from the moment that she opens her mouth to belt out "Here I Am".
The men fall over each other to charm her and worse, on the way to that denouement, allowing love, lust and feigned disability to impede their efforts in an attempt to garner guffaws that are kooky or corny depending on viewers’ levels of sophistication.
To be fair, between the writer, Jeffrey Lane and director Jerry Mitchell there are some really good laughs spread thinly around, the best of all occurring after Freddy is tortured until eventually the flesh gives up the unequal battle against the will.
With a story that never takes off and too many bad, old jokes, visitors are obliged to fall back on the song and dance for entertainment.
This is all of a relatively traditional variety with much of the music jazzy in style, although there are a couple of rockier tunes including "Love is my Legs", which shows Mr Hound at his tonsorial best. By far the pick of the evening is catchy title (almost) song, "Dirty Rotten Number", which brings down the final curtain.
From the start, it is apparent that Robert Lindsay is an old-style crooner with a gentle soft shoe shuffle—highly appropriate for his character.
Much of the rest of the dance demonstrates that Jerry Mitchell's strongest suit is his choreography and the 16-strong ensemble does him proud, energy levels rarely flagging.
Ultimately, the evening's success is likely to be judged on the drawing power of Mr Lindsay, Miss Bond and Mr Hound, the last of whose slapstick antics can never quite cover the thinness of the script.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher