Review: Scoundrels’ musical is a comedy smash

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While it first appeared as a hit film back in 1988, the touring musical stage version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has landed in Milton Keynes this week even though you are immediately transported to the French Riviera.

Amid the glitz and glamour of Beaumont-sur-Mer, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the hilarious but often predictable story of two seasoned swindlers who attempt to hoodwink various heiresses out of millions… yet there’s only really room for one of them when love shows its hand.

The classic 1980s film was directed by ‘Muppets’ legend Frank Oz (the voice of ‘Miss Piggy’) and starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine although even that had been reworked from the earlier 1960s movie Bedtime Story which starred David Niven and Marlon Brando.

From the book by Jerry Lane, the muscal version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has already spent 12 months at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End.

Whilst in London it wowed packed audiences every night with multi Olivier and Tony Award winner Robert Lindsey and Rufus Hound playing the two dastardly villains, Lawrence Jameson and Freddy Benson. Meanwhile the versatile Gary Wilmot took the part of Andre Thibault, the French Chief of Police, who reprises the role at Milton Keynes.

Playing the two swindlers on tour are former Robin Hood television star Michael Praed (he was Robin of Loxley) as the smooth talking Lawrence while former Hear’Say singer Noel Sullivan is Freddy.

It’s an hilarious romp, directed and choreographed by Jeffrey Lane with the clever, although a not-too-memorable, musical score and lyrics from writer David Yazbek.

With superb sets and glitzy and glamorous costumes – just as you would expect from a quality show – there are some really edgy songs and plenty of ripe humour as the two conmen try to work their way into the heart of former Hollyoaks star Carley Stenson who plays American ‘Soap Queen’, Christine Colgate.

Highlights of Yazbek’s musical numbers are the ‘All About Ruprecht’, ‘Love Is My Legs’ and the big finale ‘Dirty Rotten Number’ after the not-so-dumb Carley gets the last laugh over the two conmen.

Praed and Sullivan are both hilarious and are given some great slapstick one liners and while they are meant to be despicable conmen, they clearly enjoy every aspect of the show, especially when they behave like naughty schooboys as a swear word is included in a song.

First convincing Muriel Eubanks (Geraldine Fitrzgerald) that he’s a Royal prince, Lawrence collects all her valuables to ‘save’ his mythical Kingdom from a fictious war. Muriel is great and together with the female cast she sings ‘What Was A Woman To Do’.

However when the pair of conmen meet up and work together and try and con Oklahoma’s heiress – and Dolly Parton lookalike – Jolene Oakes (Phoebe Coupe) the highlight of Act One is the slapstick ‘All About Ruprecht’ number as Freddy dresses as Lawrence’s somewhat retarded schoolboy brother.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moment before Freddy then pretends to be paralysed and finds himself in a wheelchair dressed as a US Army Sergeant calling himself ‘Buzz’.

With Praed using a strange accent as he tries to fool Miss Coleglate into believing that he’s Dr Shuffhausen, a German doctor who can cure the wheelchair bound Freddy, but it’s all part of a bet that one of them can swindle $50,000 from the ‘unsuspecting’ heiress.

Lawrence also sings the show’s most fun song ‘Ruffhausen’ mit Shuffhausen’ as he tortures his nemesis into walking again. It’s certainly a pretty exhausting time for the two leads although their rapport is infectious, their antics having the audience in raptures as does Gary Wilmot as the comical French policeman.

It’s as if the cast of ‘Hello Hello’ has arrived on stage as Wilmot sounds more and more like Arthur Bostrom’s French policeman Officer Crabtree, while Praed’s German accent is something akin to Guy Siner’s Lieutenant Hubert Gruber!

Special mention of the pretty Carley Stenson whose singing voice is exceptional while Michael Praed would be perfect for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brilliant but closed-all-too-soon musical, Stephen Ward. Praed even looks and sounds like the brilliant Alexander Hanson who played the infamous chiropractor who was at the centre of the Christine Keeler/John Profumo affair.

With nine musicians in the pit under the direction of conductor Ben Van Tienen, there are also a dozen dancers and singers in the Ensemble who were brilliant as were the costume designs, lighting and scenery. In fact it all added up to an excellent evening’s entertainment.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the Musical plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (September 26) at 7.30pm each evening with matinees at 2.30pm today (Wednesday) and Saturday. It runs for 2 hours 35 minutes (less intermission). Ticket prices start from £19.40 (a £2.85 booking fees apply) and can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes