Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Musical - review

Savoy Theatre, London

Every adaptation is burdened by the question ‘What’s the point?’  If the West End’s two movie-to-stage shows in as many weeks has proved one thing, it’s that an adaptation has to be pretty radical to make the stage version worthwhile. Otherwise you end up with the largely pointless Fatal Attraction.

This one, based on the 1988 comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, has been turned into a musical which is always a radical transformation, if these days pretty common. But at least there is the sense here of the creators of this 2005 Broadway hit doing something more interesting than offering film fans a nostalgia trip.

Tempting the Robert Lindsay back into musical theatre for the first time in 16 years can be no waste of time either. He plays suave and so-smooth-you-could-ski-down-him English conman Lawrence Jameson (Michael Caine’s character) who seduces and then steals from rich women on the Côte d’Azur such as Samantha Bond’s lovelorn heiress.

Comedian Rufus Hound is the much coarser Freddy, a small-time American grifter. Lawrence’s stings involve pretending to be a prince and extorting thousands from his victims. Freddy’s idea of a good day at the office is swindling 20 bucks for a meal. David Yazbek’s clever score sums up the traits by allotting Lawrence a song about giving women “what they want” while Freddy gets the aspirational Great Big Stuff, which covets “a life of taste and class, with culture and sophistication pouring out my ass.”

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A scene from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at The Savoy Theatre

Freddy wants to be educated in the ways of the high class con and for a moment it looks as if Lawrence will be Henry Higgins to Freddy’s Eliza Doolittle. But instead they compete for the right to work the riviera. The first to separate 50,000 Euros from Katherine Kingsley’s endearingly naïve American abroad wins the territory.

At an incredibly fit-looking 64, Lindsay can turn on oily sophistication as if it were on tap. Yet it’s a performance big on charisma and light on charm. Clutching an expensive ring to be used as bait in a con, Lindsay’s Lawrence switches from prince (Charles) mode to bluntly asking his partner-in-crime – John Marquez’s gauche French Police Chief - if he remembered to get a receipt, which provides a flash of modest beginnings. But by the end of Jerry Mitchell’s slick production you know little about these con artists except that Freddy has been alone since he was 15.

There’s a sense that Jeffrey Lane’s book could have added depth to the source material, but didn’t. And when you think of just how funny and oddly moving was that other film-to-stage musical featuring two contrasting conmen, The Producers, these less vulnerable and loveable scoundrels are nowhere near as easy to root for.

Which is not to say there aren’t some standout moments. There’s a witty line of gags subverting musical conventions; a deliciously incongruous hoedown with Lawrence’s unintended prospective bride (a terrifyingly gun-toting Texan terrifically played by Lizzy Connolly) and next to Lindsay’s louche swindler Hound injects a note of madcap risk-taking honed in One Man, Two Guvnor’s. 

There is a point to this show, but it’s hardly an essential one.

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