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.
It’s well and truly the season in Beaumont-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera, and the game is on for suave con man Lawrence Jameson who makes his living by conning rich women out of their money. This season however things are not as usual, with the arrival of one Freddy Benson, a young American upstart who threatens Jameson’s lifestyle. After an attempt at working together a bet is made to win a ‘prize’ that would see the other leave town for good.
It is never easy adapting a classic film into a musical. The score created by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane is very dynamic and has some hilariously comical lyrics that have the audience in stitches for the majority of the show. David Yazbek’s songs give the show a very classy feel and then combined with Jeffrey Lane’s brilliant comedic script leaves the audience laughing and wanting more.
Key to the success of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Musical is the onstage relationship between Lawrence Jameson played by Michael Praed and Freddy Benson played by Noel Sullivan. There is an instant chemistry between these two actors, leaving the audience having just as much enjoyment and fun as them on stage. This too is shown when watching Michael Praed and Noel Sullivan carry out their elaborate cons in varying comical numbers such as All About Ruprecht and Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen. Both Praed and Sullivan have faultless comic timing and are also blessed with incredible voices that really work well with David Yazbek’s score.
Phoebe Coupe is every bit the equal of the two confident con men Jameson and Benson. As Christine Colgate she seems the perfect target but this charming young lady hides a great secret. Phoebe Coupe has a great voice and sparkles as she gets taken in by Jameson and Benson and their elaborate scheme.
Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Muriel Eubanks, a classy dame who travels around the world looking for love and living life to the full. From her first appearance, you can’t help but love Muriel, she has a feeling that she knows she’s being conned but yet she’s still here.
The casting of Mark Benton as Andre Thibault, Lawrence Jameson’s right hand man is brilliant and has created far more of a comic interpretation. His scenes in act two with Geraldine Fitzgerald’s Muriel had the audience crying out for more and had a certain element of Strictly Come Dancing about it. Mark Benton has a real talent for comic timing and he deploys it with superb effect at key moments throughout the show.
One cannot write a review of this magical show without of course mentioning the very hardworking ensemble that provides the cherry on top of the cake for this musical. With the many characters portrayed from hotel staff to sailors the ensemble gives a feeling of overwhelming talent with their ranges simply impeccable.
Jerry Mitchell, as Director and Choreographer creates a truly wonderful atmosphere with the slick staging and equal parts of hilarity. Matthew Brind has provided the show with boundless orchestrations and arrangements and under the baton of Musical Director Ben Van Tienen, the show is jammed packed with life and incredible energy that spreads to the audience leaving their toes well and truly tapping. The score is a joy to listen to something I could do every evening.
I believe a special mention should go out to Peter McKintosh who has provided a stunning set for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Scene changes are effortlessly transformed with style and always complimenting what is happening on stage and never detracting from it. His costumes are to die for with an abundance of panache and a suitable dose of classiness. Even though Freddy doesn’t have the best dress sense it adds and compliments his character.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels The Musical is a wonderful evening at the theatre. Its sheer fun and you would be hard pushed to find anybody who could walk out of the theatre without having had a great evening with a great deal of laughs. This show really does “Give Them What They Want” and offers “Great Big Stuff”. This posse of classic con artists are heading to a theatre near you very soon and you’d be a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel by not seeing them.
Young Critic James Briggs with cast member Noel Sullivan who plays Freddy Benson