DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
On 2 April Wednesday, Nancy and I attended the Opening Night of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at London's wonderful Savoy Theatre, and it was completely fabulous! It is a new production of the very successful 2005 Broadway musical version (q.v., my review).
The music and lyrics for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" were written by our extremely talented old friend, David Yazbek (who also has done Broadway musical versions of "The Full Monty" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" [a version of which is also scheduled to open in London this coming winter, BTW]); the book was written by Jeffrey Lane, who also wrote the book for the original version, and who wrote the book for "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," as well; and it was directed by Jerry Mitchell (who had done the choreography for the 2005 version, and is fresh from his successful direction of "Kinky Boots").
The story line is essentially the same as that of the 1988 Frank Oz film of the same name, starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin: a handsome, suave, and debonair con man named Lawrence Jameson (played with effective comic aplomb by Robert Lindsay, ["My Family," and "Me And My Girl"]) is elegantly wooing and cleverly swindling rich women on the French Riviera, when Freddy Benson (humorously portrayed by comedian turned actor Rufus Hound ["One Man, Two Guvnors]"), a boorish, small-time grifter from America arrives in town; they clash, eventually collaborate, and finally end up in a competition to see which of them can con a newly arrived American heiress Christine Colgate (completely effectively played by Katherine Kingsley ["A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Michael Grandage Season"]) out of $50,000—with the loser having to leave town. In the stage versions, there is an additional subplot about one of Jameson’s victims, Muriel Eubanks (wonderfully done by Samantha Bond ["Downton Abbey" and James Bond series) becoming romantically involved with the town’s chief of police, André (endearingly portrayed by John Marquez ["Privates on Parade"]), who also is Jameson’s accomplice in crime.
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is a totally enjoyable, clever, witty, and intelligently done show. Yazbek's music is incredibly innovative and deeply captivating, and his lyrics are wildly funny and sophisticatedly clever in a way that harkens back to Cole Porter. (Clive Barnes, writing about the 2005 Broadway version, said of what he termed “Yazbek's divinely offbeat songs,” that, “The quirky brilliance of composer David Yazbek is on full display. The songs enhance and propel the plot with such resounding force, you need to listen to every word.”) Jeffrey Lane's book continues to be one of the best in many decades. (There have been slight alterations in both the lyrics and music to accommodate a London audience: gone are esoteric Americanisms like "Poker with Al Roker" or "my personal Zomboni.") The production actually is tighter and works even better than the terrific 2005 Broadway version, and Jerry Mitchell deserves great praise for his direction. (I had feared that this former choreographer might have overemphasized the dancing; but, while there is more of it in this version, it is used totally successfully within the production.) The acting, singing, and dancing are all extraordinary. There are clever frame-breaking moments in the production when the boundary between the theatrical reality and the reality of the theater are playfully stretched: in the midst of one musical number early in the first act when the female members of the ensemble begin, one at a time, to sing as conquests of Lawrence Jameson’s charms, they are joined from the theater floor by an “usher” who begins singing about her enchantment with some guy she has just moved down from the balcony to the stalls; and there are several moments at which one of the actors communicates something to the orchestra conductor—or to the audience.
This is an extremely enjoyable, delightfully refreshing evening of theater; and I suggest that all those of you in striking distance of London go see it. You will be glad you did! But be forewarned: this is already a very difficult ticket to get, so act fast! (Tickets can be purchased online directly from the Savoy Theatre at www.savoytheatre.org/dirty-rotten-scoundrels/.