Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Savoy Theatre)

Jerry Mitchell’s “glorious staging” of the Broadway hit has now opened at the Savoy Theatre

Scoundrel: Rufus Hound and cast
Scoundrel: Rufus Hound and cast
© Johan Persson

The first thing to say is: it’s a dream partnership. Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound as a pair of vulgar, deceitful, skirt-chasing conmen on the French Riviera tear up the stage, and the good taste rulebook, in this effervescent Broadway musical comedy based on a patchy 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.

Jerry Mitchell‘s glorious staging, and David Yazbek’s delightful score (with audaciously witty lyrics), continue the musical comedy comeback first signalled, I reckon, by Betty Blue Eyes; but in terms of design, song power and frilly-knickered chorus girls, this is different league, and it all looks absolutely fabulous, and fabulously old-fashioned, in the silver leaf and art deco setting of the Savoy.

Jeffrey Lane’s book is a tighter improvement on the screenplay: Lindsay’s Lawrence Jameson tells Hound’s Freddy Benson of his latest rich sucker conquest from Oklahoma – "She’s in oil" "Crude?" "Well, she’s a little pushy" – before Lizzy Connolly’s Jolene Oakes leads a line of cowboys in a thigh-slapping, yee-haw hoe-down complete with scenic transformation.

In this way the show continually departs from the movie in imaginative theatrical leaps: the French hotel is populated with prancing bell hops and chambermaids (Freddy’s "wow" is not because of the view, but the staircase); the "crippled" war vet Freddy impersonates as part of the charade to snare Katherine Kingsley‘s Texan soap queen, Christine Colgate, is submitted to a riotous ensemble rumba as part of his "love therapy."

Similarly, Jameson acquires accents and characters like a music hall quick-change artist, doing his prince-in-exile act (to raise funds for the spurious revolution) as Prince Charles and his dastardly German doctor guise as a Teutonic Peter Sellers; Lindsay combines a distinctly modern edge with the anachronistic suavity, deftness and killer technique that we haven’t really seen from him since Me and My Girl and his wonderful Archie Rice.

In fine contrast, Hound is all cuddly gormlessness, a sort of mildly sedated Eddie Izzard with Steve Martin’s gift for making deformity and disability – as a Quasimodo-like fraternal sidekick, "Ruprecht," and the whizzing wheelchair vet – genuinely and forgivably funny.

And you can certainly extend the politically incorrect compliments to Kingsley’s gorgeous man-eater hitting the high spots as well as the high notes, and to John Marquez‘s dimly entertaining caricature of a corrupt French policeman who talks like zis and sings like zat.

Zat little number is shared with Samantha Bond‘s scatty rich Prince-chaser Muriel Oaks ("obviously from Surrey") who switches her affections and awakes distinctly rumpled the next morning to find the scenery moving. This traditional "second couple" is another invention of the musical and allows, too, for some equally surprising and rather beautiful romantic songs in the second act.

In these we learn that Love sneaks in or, in the vet’s case, "Love is My Legs," a musical mantra that escalates from a candle-lit chorale in the bedroom to a full-on frenzy of fornication all over the hotel. Until, that is, the tables are turned in the hilarious finale, and you will have got there already if you’ve seen the movie.

Peter McKintosh‘s design in particular – all the locations are effortlessly contained on his curvilinear art deco set, reflecting the theatre’s own interior – are virtually Broadway standard, the inevitable criterion in these circumstances, and Howard Harrison‘s lighting is pretty good, too. The dancers are fantastic, and the band, under Matthew Brind’s musical supervision, top notch.

For more info on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy, click here

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