Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Theatre Review

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opened in 2005 on Broadway, taking nearly 10 years to cross the pond to the West End where it opened in 2014, and now it has headed out on a national tour. The fast-paced musical comedy is based on the 1988 MGM film of the same name, very much in the mould of an old fashioned musical. Lively, light and camp – a real tip of the hat to musicals of the era.

Two con men, a beautiful woman and the elite of the French Riviera collide in this sexy and irreverent farce. Suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson makes his living by talking rich ladies out of their money, and Freddy Benson, more humbly swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories. The pair unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that the small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. They agree on a settlement: the first one to extract $50,000 from a young female target, heiress Christine Colgate, wins and the other must leave town. But have they bitten off more than they can chew?

Michael Praed oozes elegance and charm in the role of Jameson, he excellently  portrays the arrogance of the suave conman. Add to this his fine voice, and he is always a good mover, a good allround performance. Noel Sullivan is quite the opposite as Benson. Brash, direct and shameless he brings an excitable nature to the character which works well alongside the more refined Jameson. The chemistry between the two is impressive, with their understanding of comical timing near spot on. Carley Stenson completes the trio as Colgate, as she holds her own and has a fine voice as showcased in the number Love is My Legs. The introduction of her character brings much needed life into the production.

Mark Benton is aptly cast as the corrupt police chief Andre Thibault. He offers a more lighthearted cameo part to the two conmen. Comically experienced, he works the stage well, although his accent seems like it has come straight out of Allo Allo! territory than the French Riviera. His second act relationship with Muriel Eubanks, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, is charming, although a little more exploration might have been nice.

The songs offer a slightly satirical take on the style of songs from the era, and are cleverly written – but not very memorable. They are light though, and allow Jerry Mitchell’s dazzling choreography to stand out and shine. The dancers in the ensemble must take credit for ensuring these are sharp and eye catching. Although the second act rattles by, the pace is fractionally too slow throughout the first act. But the major flaw with the story is that the two leads happen to be rather unlikeable as characters, we rarely get to see the flip side of the conmen we might actually like.

It’s not a a genius piece of musical theatre, nor is it spectacularly gripping. but Dirty Rotten Scoundrels does not take itself too seriously. If you take it on face value, and can excuse the frequent playing to the audience, it is good entertainment – Refreshing, good light-hearted fun.