At every turn, it seems, a long revered film is being subjected to a musical makeover. Sadly, all too often these adaptations fail to capture what is so highly celebrated in the originals and they ultimately fall flat. Thankfully, this is no such case. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels sashays assuredly into the appropriately glitzy Savoy Theatre filled to the brim with class and mischief in equal parts. The essence of somewhat endearing criminality is mixed with smooth sophistication and injected with marvellous energy and pace, achieving a timeless quality. This is a rare instance of theatre that can be enjoyed universally.
Lawrence Jameson, a charming and debonair con-artist, makes a living on the French Riviera stalking naïve and kind-hearted heiresses. Posing as the prince of a far-flung country, he coaxes one such heiress, Muriel Eubanks, into providing aid to his struggling nation. As Jameson targets the flocks of wealthy women, he finds his territory threatened by Freddy Benson, a young and relatively inexperienced swindler. As the two men size each another up, Benson asks Jameson to become his mentor. Jameson accepts before realising that the plush Riviera is too small for both to operate comfortably. Fortunately, Christine Colgate, the ‘American Soap Queen’, descends on the scene and immediately becomes the target of the two men. The first to extract $50,000 from Colgate wins his place along the Riviera while the other must leave, defeated.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is among the most beautifully constructed musicals to grace the West End this century. Creating a cheeky atmosphere and harking back to a simpler and more innocent world, it is clear that the effort has been made to acknowledge some of the more iconic moments of Frank Oz’s film. The cast as a whole are unparalleled in their talents, executing Jerry Mitchell’s enchanting choreography with so much giddy energy that the audience are hard-pushed not to clamber out of their seats and join the frivolity. Robert Lindsay effortlessly embodies ladies’ man Jameson; his physical ease, self-effacing manner and comic timing perfectly counteract the explosiveness of Rufus Hound’s Benson. Lizzy Connolly quickly wins the audience over with her cartoon-like depiction of psychotic millionairess Jolene Oakes while Katherine Kingsley’s vocal ability and charming characterisation of Christine make for the perfect leading lady.
Delivering an understated but nevertheless enjoyable and catchy score, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ticks all the boxes. The cast’s enjoyment of being onstage is palpable and permeates the theatre as the audience leans forward for more. Despite some questionable costumes that deviate from the otherwise clearly defined era this show will surely take its place as one of the most successful theatrical adaptations in history.
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is playing at the Savoy Theatre until 29 November 2014. Click here for tickets.
Reviewed by Alex Foott