Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a fairly good Steve Martin and Michael Caine 1988 film about a couple of con men trying to outdo each other on the French Riviera, which itself was based on an earlier comedy, Bedtime Story, starring David Niven as the suave Englishman and Marlon Brando as the younger, somewhat cocky, American. The later film, however, is what Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek adapted into this stage musical some ten years ago, and which had better success in London’s West End than it did on Broadway.
Why, I asked myself, take a fairly good film and add new music, song and dance? I then quickly remembered that some of our most successful musicals are adaptations of plays, such as My Fair Lady, some plays went straight to musical film, such as High Society, before also making it onto the stage, and some films have made mediocre musicals but far better stage adaptations, like The Full Monty and Brassed Off.
I was therefore completely ready to enjoy a new musical with a light knowledge of the plot, if not the twist, and, for most of the evening, I was entertained, amused, and impressed with the singing, dancing, physical comedy, set, musicianship, acting, and most of all with the very clever and witty lyrics, including a mention of David Niven, star of the original material.
Given that this show is something of a vehicle for better-known performers, it was a huge relief that the three main men were played by Michael Praed, a long ago Robin of Sherwood who I last saw as Frederick in the re-vamped Pirates of Penzance on Drury Lane some thirty years ago as Lawrence, the English con man, the ever-reliable Gary Wilmot as his bodyguard who also happens to be the chief of police, and Noel Sullivan from the band Hearsay as younger American Freddy. These three actors are reason enough to go and see the show, and Praed has not only aged better than any man I know – apart from silver hair he is still the dashing, suave, sophisticated heir to Niven and Caine, but can also dance so very well, and his voice, particularly in the balllad Love Sneaks In, where his volume control and accuracy of pitch was pure perfection, is first soft and sensitive, and then strong and powerful.
Sullivan plays the Martin/Brando role with a slick confidence, and proves he is much more than just a pop singer, singing and dancing his way around the stage with great ability, and using a wheelchair with great physicality for one of the cons.
Wilmot, fresh from a tour of Oklahoma, is part of a subplot involving the seduction of one of Praed’s victims as a distraction, and he and Geraldine Fitzgerald, as Muriel, eke every ounce of comedy, physical and verbal, from the script.
Ex Hollyoaks actress Carley Stenson gives an accurate portrayal of an American visitor that the two men con, before she cleverly evades their clutches in a twist I should not reveal for the sake of anyone who has yet to see the play.
The supporting cast play various conned women, bar, waiting, railway and hotel staff, and provide a strong musical chorus when needed, and it is great to see a decent-sized band under Ben Van Tienen, and a full list of the musicians in the programme, as I have noticed that many recent tours are failing to list the band members, which seems such an insult given their pivotal role in the show. It was wonderful this evening to hear the ovation for the band, some two or three minutes after the final curtain, when they eventually finished their final number, as the departing audience turned, applauded, and quite rightfully cheered.
All in all then, some great performances, especially from Mssrs Praed, Wilmot and Sullivan, but I do still have that niggling question lurking in my mind – why? It’s at Bristol until the end of the week and on tour for a while longer yet if you fancy going along and seeking the answer.