When the going gets tough, the tough get going to … musicals. Live musicals. Funny musicals. Just the day before I’d been to a riotous How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying in Walthamstow – could a big, polished West End production in any way recreate the charm and joy of a weensie yet perfect show held over a pub?
To my pleasure, my economical (bumped from third balcony to second) yet well-centered seats gave me just the sort of big-bang evening I was hoping for. The story of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was one I didn’t know … two con men (one cultured – Lawrence Jameson as played by Robert Lindsay; one low brow – Freddy Benson as played by Rufus Hound) go head to head in a Riviera resort town, betting that one of them will be first to do a big con and the other will then leave town in disgrace. It’s like a buddy comedy, only mean instead of cute, with the two men playing tricks on their cons and each other, while we in the audience laugh harder and harder. And of course the woman they choose for the big con sets it up so it becomes personal between the two guys.
I came to this show with no knowledge of the movie, so the whole thing was pretty much a surprise for me. It turns out it was much less greasy than I expected – I never anticipated that the development of the relationship between the two men would be so important to the story. (Watching the movie later, I realized that a fair amount of liberty had been taken with the source material – all the better to make a good night at the theater.) I was despairing at the combination of “hit Hollywood movie” and “Broadway songwriting talent,” expecting some Disneyfied piece of crap, but as it turns out, the songs were actually genuinely funny, with lyrics that didn’t just fill space but gave me the giggles. What went right here? And even if they kept the sets fairly light and airy, weren’t the dance numbers a laugh? OH MY GOD WAS I HAVING A GOOD TIME? There are nights when I am sure it would never happen again!
In retrospect, despite the West End ticket price, I have to say that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has every possibility of being the kind of reliable that you turn to for a pick me up on a gray day – a bit of slapstick, a lot of dancing, and buckets and buckets of fun. And thanks to Paul in London for the heads up – without you, I would have missed out entirely!
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 8, 2014. It is booking until well into the future.)