Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Take two con men, one suave, sophisticated, charming; the other brash, uncouth, common; throw them together in the south of France and let them try and con the same mark, who unbeknownst to them has her own secrets and you’ve got the essence of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the smash hit musical from Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek.
Based on the 80’s movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, DRS is packed full of double cross, con and counter con and more twists than a twisty, turny thing. What sets this musical apart from many other attempts at bringing 80’s movies to the stage is that it is simply brilliant. The cast is perfect, the songs are as witty as Noel Coward yet as risky and risqué as Mel Brooks and the choreography is total French Riviera; beautiful girls, beautiful boys, beautiful costumes.
The story opens with Lawrence Jameson, the debonair Englishman wooing his way through most of the available wealthy ladies staying in Beaumont Sur Mer, the fashionable and luxury resort in the South of France. Michael Praed, reprising the Michael Caine role, is elegant yet deliciously naughty, and glides through the whole show with total charm and sophistication. Praed has surely found his calling in this role, he is totally believable yet plays it all with a telling glint in his eye and a mischievous lilt in his voice. He reminds me of Malcolm McDowell who, in his more recent guises has found elegant Britishness couples perfectly with an undercurrent of danger and desire.
Ably supporting Jameson is the local chief of police, Andre Thibault a role that is smashed out of the park by Mark Benton. Whilst the chief is, to many, a 4th part of the ménage a tois, he provides the glue through the whole story to keep the action centred and yet, in attempting to help Jameson avoid one his more amorous conquests, he manages to hook himself his own special lady. Benton is one of my all time favourite actors, I loved him in the Booze Cruise trilogy (Matey Boy) as well as his longstanding partnership with Robson Green in the ‘Lights’ series. Having watched him on Strictly I was even more keen to see him strut his stuff live on stage and boy he didn’t disappoint. Coupling comic timing with genuine rhythm Mark lights up every scene he is in, even if he’s stood side stage. His accent is brilliant, Poirot meets Pepe le Peu with ‘joost a leel beet’ of Officer Crabtree.
Following an evening spent pretending to be a usurped Prince, Jameson takes a train ride, on which he believes he has found the infamous Jackal, a known American con man. Played by Noel Sullivan, Freddy Benson is presented as a brash, loud mouthed ’Noo Yorka’, out to try and fleece a buck or two from any unsuspecting schmuck by playing the short con and relying purely on half-hearted sentiment. Jameson recognises immediately that he poses no real ‘professional’ threat to his carefully crafted money train, but also can see that Benson would happily blow his cover for a dollar, and so agrees to coach the young pretender in exchange for his silence. Sullivan has it down to a tee; he combines the youthful folly and over excitedness of a 1st time traveller with the street smarts of a Brooklyn kid – it was always going to be difficult for anyone to recreate the Steve Martin approach, but Sullivan uses what he has to his advantage; he’s younger and thus more believable as an upstart kid rather than an accomplished conman.
As the story progresses, both con men decide that there is not enough room for two and so agree on a challenge; one mark, one goal, winner stays, loser leaves and nothing is off limits. So begins one of the best double, triple, quadruple plot twists ever written. The wonderful Carley Stenson becomes the mark, Christine Colgate, the newly crowned Soap Queen who is in France to celebrate and enjoy her considerable wealth. Of course, having someone as beautiful as Stenson means love (and lust) can’t be far away but it is the way our two protagonists try to both con and woo her whilst trying to derail the other’s plans that makes for truly hilarious, sometimes slapstick comedy. The songs are fresh and funny and show a new approach to musical theatre; gone are the traditional verse, chorus, verse constructs; each is very catchy, hooks galore with clever wordplay – there’s a chance for Benton to show he can croon, for Praed to make all the women swoon and for Sullivan to make everyone else groon (groan but that didn’t rhyme). For me however, the best song is Oklahoma? with Phoebe Coupe as Jolene, a good ole mid western girl, painting Jameson the picture of wedded bliss on the prairie.
If you’ve seen the movie then you will have a good idea about most of the twists and turns but seeing it live on stage, full of brilliant musical numbers and expertly cast, it surely has a place already with the greats of comedy musicals – The Producers, Book of Mormon, Singing in the Rain, Little Shop of Horrors, Full Monty, Legally Blonde, Sister Act – you’ve got a new stable mate