Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (Then on tour)
It’s the season in Beaumont-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera, and the game is on for suave conman Lawrence Jameson who makes his living by talking rich women out of their money. This season however things could get interesting with the arrival of one Freddy Benson, a young American upstart who threatens the status quo. After an attempt at working together hilarity ensues as both seek to win a wager that would see the other leave town.
Adapting a classic film can be fraught with hazards but David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane have fashioned a score that is dynamic, with delicious comic moments. Yazbek’s songs have an air of pastiche that when combined with Lane’s deadly comic script had the audiences in stitches.
Key to the success of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the onstage relationship between Jameson played by Michael Praed and Benson played by Noel Sullivan. There is an immediate chemistry between these two, you get the feeling that they are having far more fun than we as the audience are and it’s infectious. It’s a chemistry that was missing in the West End, but this touring production has it in spades and then some.
Watching Praed and Sullivan carry out their cons in numbers such as All About Ruprecht and Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen is a sublime pleasure. Both actors have impeccable comic timing but are also blessed with incredible voices that really work with Yazbek's score.
All good conmen need good marks and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is blessed with three of the best. As Jolene Oakes, an heiress from Oklahoma, Phoebe Coupe brings the stage to life with Oklahoma?, a number that brings frenetic energy to the stage as Jolene explains what lies in store for Jameson after their marriage. It’s a terrific hootenanny as Jolene brings a moment of horrific realisation to Jameson as his plan goes south with great speed.
Carley Stenson is every bit the equal of the two assured con men. As Christine Colgate she is the perfect target but this lovely lady hides a secret. Stenson is in great voice and shines as she gets taken in by Jameson and Benson.
Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Muriel Eubanks, a classy dame who travels the world seeking her niche and looking for love. From her first introduction, you can’t help but love Muriel, she get the impression that she knows she’s being conned but yet she’s still here. Fitzgerald’s Muriel has a subtle fragility combined with a sense of being lost that makes her one of the more interesting characters in this swindle.
The casting of Mark Benton as Andre Thibault, Jameson’s right hand man is inspired and has allowed the role to be opened up to a far more comic interpretation, which benefits the show enormously. His scenes in act two with Fitzgerald’s Muriel had the audience crying out for more. Benton has an ear for comic delivery and he deploys it with devastating effect at key moments throughout the show. Wonderful!
Scoundrels has a hard working ensemble that provide the frosting on this delicious delight of a musical. Playing hotel staff, servants, maids, society types, sailors, and assorted rich holiday-makers, the ensemble give the show incredible fluidity and deserve high praise indeed.
Jerry Mitchell, as Director and Choreographer has styled a delicious confection that was equal parts slick staging and equal parts hilarity. There are no dud moments in this Scoundrels, the show flows likes French Champagne and is a real delight to watch. Mitchell, Yazbek and Lane have taken a classic film and improved on it as a musical.
Matthew Brind has provided the show with additional orchestrations and arrangements and under the baton of Musical Director Ben Van Tienen, the show sizzles and bursts forth with life and incredible energy. It’s helped by the crystal clear sound design of Paul Groothuis and Tom Marshall. It was great to hear every word of this great score.
Peter McKintosh has provided a stunning set for our Scoundrels to play on. It transforms effortlessly from scene to scene with style always complimenting the action and never detracting from it. His costumes are perfectly in synch with the characters and the locale, all style with an abundance of panache and a suitable dose of crassness for Benson.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a great night in the theatre. It’s sheer fun and I doubt that anybody could walk out of the theatre without having had a great night with a lot of laughs. If you saw the show in the West End see it again, you might be surprised at just how good this production is. This band of classic conmen are heading to a theatre near you and you’d be crazy not to get a ticket and enjoy their antics. The classic film is now a classic musical!
PS. Congrats to the front of house staff at the New Alexandra Theatre whose bi-lingual audience announcements and great front of house service really added to my night at the theatre.