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Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Musical

Pros and cons of this musical on fraudsters

Savoy Theatre, London WC2

    Rufus Hound enjoying life's luxuries in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
    Rufus Hound enjoying life's luxuries in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

    There's something uninspiring about the way this show was created. Composer and lyricist David Yazbek was looking down MGM's list of films that the studio were willing to have adapted into a musical. By coincidence, so was book writer Jeffrey Lane. The result became a Broadway hit in 2005 and now here it is, an entertaining musical based on the popular but, let's face it, hardly adored 1988 comedy starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin about two con men working the French Riviera.

    It's a show put together with great skill by director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell. And it ticks all the boxes that Yazbek and Lane doubtless thought it capable of when they were perusing what Lane calls "the list of properties." But it never quite rids itself of the sense that its creators loved its viability rather more than its characters.

    Robert Lindsay as Lawrence (the Caine role) is an English super suave swindler of rich women on the Cote d'Azur. Comedian Rufus Hound is Freddy, a vulgar American small-time con man. Both are underwritten by Lane's book. Of their past we learn that Freddy has been alone since he was 15 and according to one of Yazbek's witty songs, in which Freddy imagines life with lots of money, every day would be a barmitvah. So maybe he's Jewish too. Although to me, reliving a barmitzvah on a daily basis would be pure purgatory.

    But as you would expect from some of Broadway's top talent, there are superbly delivered set pieces. The best of these arrives early on when the chorus morphs into a Texan hoedown as gun-toting heiress Jolene (a terrific Lizzy Connolly) bullies Lawrence towards a shotgun wedding.

    For plot, Lawrence and Freddy compete for the right to work the French Riviera. The winner is the first to separate Katherine Kingsley's seemingly innocent and rich American traveller from 50,000 euros. The story zips along entertainingly enough but it needs, and thankfully gets, Hound's loose canon brand of humour to take some of the sheen off this slickest of shows. It's a just a shame that we know so little about him and Lawrence and there is a glass ceiling over the amount of empathy these not-quite-loveable rogues generate.

    Rufus-Hound and co-star Robert Lindsay
    Rufus-Hound and co-star Robert Lindsay

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