Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ***1/2

Book by Jeffrey Lane, Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek, (after the movie by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning) by The Production Company
Where and When: State Theatre, September 30 to  October 4, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 & a half

You’ve got to love the long con. The sheer inventiveness and bravado that allows a con artist to follow his colourful plot through to its bitter, lucrative – albeit criminal – end is deliciously entertaining

And so it goes in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a musical that is the descendant of the 1964 film starring David Niven with Brando in a rare comic turn and a 1988 version with Michael Caine and nutty Steve Martin.

Bille Brown, who wowed audiences as King Arthur in Spamalot, is hilarious as the supremely arrogant and suave poseur, Lawrence Jameson, whose long con involves playing the prince of a non-existent European country suffering a non-existent revolution. “Give them what they want,” he sings. And he does.

On the French Riviera, assisted by the tres-French Chief of Police (Grant Piro), Jameson, with faux-European charm, seduces and fleeces rich women including lonely American heiress, Muriel Eubanks (Marina Prior).

Jameson’s complex game almost collapses with the arrival of low-rent con artist, Freddy Benson, played with relish, slapstick and comical vulgarity by Matt Hetherington. Freddy’s cheap, short cons involve heroic tales of a sick grandmother. All he wants, as he sings greedily, is Great Big Stuff.

The pair is compelled to join forces to con the supposedly rich, small-town Soap Queen, Christine Colgate (Amy Lehpamer). But this cheerful, clumsy gal is not as ingenuous as she appears. Lehpamer’s voice is rich and powerful and her character matches the vigour of the two con artists.

Roger Hodgman sets a rollicking pace, letting Hetherington and Brown off their leads as this odd couple. They find a rhythmic energy and balance with Hetherington as the crass, physical, boyish con and Brown as the sleek, slightly camp aristocrat.

Piro has impeccable comic timing as the gauche, greedy French gendarme while Prior’s bright vocal tones and comic skill bring the passionate Muriel to life. Chelsea Plumley is bold, big-voiced and brassy as loud, Oklahoma oil heiress, Jolene.

In addition to the goofy antics of the leads, huge laughs are found in David Yazbek’s cunning, often insane lyrics and Jeffery Lane’s brazen, comic dialogue. The tight, on-stage band, lead by John Foreman, does justice to Yazbek’s perky and memorable songs that range from funky to latin beats and love ballads. The vivacious chorus dances up a storm, choreographed by Dana Jolly.

“Breeding is important”, quips Jameson, “but lighting is everything.” It’s a very funny night.

By Kate Herbert

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