Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music and lyrics: David Yazbek
Director and Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels, Third Act Critic
Based on the iconic film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, classified as “the funniest film of all time,” Dirty Rotten Scoundrels first hit the London stage as a musical a year ago. Telling the tale of a mega scam pulled by a couple of conmen on the French Riviera who pull out all the stops in a no holds barred contest in order to win the affections (and thus access to the money!) of a millionaire soap heiress, it’s harmless fun in today’s world beset by drug offences and more. Nothing is as it appears – reflected in an atmospheric and skilfully lit set where even the palm trees are manifestly fake!
There is no doubt whatsoever that as a comedy film starring Michael Caine and the wonderful comic actor Steve Martin Dirty Rotten Scoundrels worked wonderfully well; the question is, does it work as a musical?
The answer is yes – but only up to a point. A stage production has advantages and disadvantages over a film – two very different art forms cannot, and do not profess to be, identical. The snap, crackle and pop that characterised the 1988 film does not really get going in the stage version until the second half, when it suddenly finds it feet.
This is due in part to one of the major additions which writer Jeffrey Lane has made to the original film script i.e. the romance between Andre, the hapless and reluctant aide to camp of conman Lawrence Jameson, the conman responsible for laying the trap – or rather traps – to catch an heiress. As Lawrence, Michael Praed is suitably debonair and suave, but could at times be sharper off the mark, but as Andre old-timer Mark Benton has a masterly control of the comedic, delivering his lines with an inherent chuckle. As the object of his attentions, the ‘lady of a certain age’ Muriel – British as opposed to American as in the film – Geraldine Fitzgerald is a delight. The musical number ‘Like Zis/Like Zat’ which she sings with Benton is a gem, and fully justifies adding an additional element which, although it would have been superfluous in the film, greatly enhances the stage version.
Noel Sullivan, as the ‘innocent’ conman the susceptible and lovelorn Freddy whose misadventures are at the centre of the mayhem, performs with gusto. As Christine Colgate, the blonde- with- the- dosh , who is targeted by the conmen, Phoebe Coupe responded magnificently to the challenge , due to Carley Stenson being unwell in the first night at this venue, coming into her own in the hilariously funny ‘Love is My Legs’ in Act II.
A great ensemble performs the dance numbers with verve and expertise and showcases some wonderful costumes, reflecting the era in which the story is set. Overall a show to be enjoyed for what it is – entertainment, and not to be taken too seriously.
Runs until Saturday August 22nd at the Wales Millennium Centre.