There’s an inbuilt problem with screen to stage adaptations, especially those destined for the musical stage. Ideally you need a film that hardly anyone has seen, but with enough of a recognition factor that you’ll still get bums on seats, but where all but the most diehard of fans will be coming fresh to the story. The Magnificent Ambersons, for example, or something that won an Oscar in the fifties, that everyone’s head of, but that no one ever watches.
What you don’t need is the sort of family friendly comedy that regularly gets wheeled out on a Bank Holiday afternoon to fill the schedules. Especially if you’re not prepared to wrestle your material to the ground, and do something new with it.
I’m afraid to say that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s 2004 riviera-set con-artist musical now previewing at the Savoy falls squarely into that category, and the whole beautifully produced though immediately forgettable conflation consequently falls sadly short of the mark for anyone who has seen the film.
Structurally the storytelling is a bit hit and miss, with no satisfying ‘opening number’ to establish what the show is about, no song to establish the main character, and what he (in this case) wants, and the actual main thread of the narrative not rearing its head until after we’ve had half a dozen songs. We are introduced to one set of characters, are taken on a journey with them then half way through Act One, told that no, actually we’re actually heading off in a different direction.
That being said, the presence of the wonderful Robert Lindsay, and a supporting cast that includes Rufus Hound, Samantha Bond, and John Marquez, lift Yazbek’s pedestrian and immediately forgettable score into a tolerable evening’s entertainment.
The real draw of the evening is obviously Lindsay whose star quality manages to make even an unappealing confidence trickster seem likeable, and hasn’t lost any of his undoubted Me and My Girl charm, though the amount of ‘business’ he gets up to threatens to make it The Robert Lindsay Show, rather than a title in its own right.
Of the other cast members, Hound is likeable and can sell a song, though the vampish Samantha Bond doesn’t appear to be, I think it’s fair to say, a natural singer.
Apart from Lindsay, the other real star of the evening is Peter McKintosh’s astonishingly beautiful set which has, in The Savoy Theatre, found the home and ambience it truly deserves. The whole auditorium seems to become a ballet of flying Art Deco splendour, though in reality the world is created with just a few beautifully decorated and well flown flats, some good lighting by Howard Harrison, and a few well-placed items of furniture which are trollied on and off.
In fact, although the set looks marvellous, and is doubtless controlled by computer, the whole arena has the air of being slightly old-fashioned, which is in a way something which could be levelled against Lane and Yazbek’s show, and indeed Jerry Mitchells direction and choreography.
Although there are a few nice touches – especially around the topiary – there’s nothing ground-breaking or particularly designed to scare the horses about this production. There’s the odd – and oddly out of place – rude word, or gag, but all in all the music, set, and direction are rather like a 1974 episode of Summertime Special, live from Torquay, but that’s somehow managed to get Mel Brooks as director.
You won’t come out of the theatre humming any of the tunes, but you might just have had a few good laughs. Though whether a few good laughs will be sufficient recompense for the price of a West End ticket remains to be seen.