Entertainment & Arts

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels heads for London's stage

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Media captionRobert Lindsay performing one of the songs from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Frank Oz's classic film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was first adapted for the Broadway stage in 2005, picking up a clutch of awards and nominations. Now it's scamming its way to the West End.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the latest film-to-stage adaptation set to hit London's theatreland, hot on the heels of The Bodyguard, Once and American Psycho.

It is based on the 1988 film starring Sir Michael Caine as suave British con artist Lawrence Jamieson and Steve Martin as small-time American hustler Freddy Benson. The action revolves around them competing for the riches of a young heiress and the film went on to become one of the most-loved comedies of the decade.

It first opened on Broadway with Oscar nominee John Lithgow and theatre star Norbert Leo Butz in the lead roles, earning them both Tony nominations and a win for Butz.

Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption The show features plenty of song and dance

Choreographed at the time by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell, he has now brought the production to the UK - this time with a director's cap on too.

"I get to do this every single day with this amazing group of people and I couldn't be more fortunate," the director quips.

Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption Katherine Kingsley is part of the cast

He has a good track record of bringing the big screen to the stage, having previously been behind the hit Broadway adaptations of Kinky Boots and Legally Blonde.

His West End version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels sees Robert Lindsay, the Olivier winner and star of BBC One sitcom My Family, making his musical theatre comeback.

He plays Lawrence and is joined by comic Rufus Hound as Freddy - minus his famous facial hair.

Surprisingly Lindsay has never seen the Frank Oz film, although coincidentally he met Sir Michael and Martin on the French Riviera while they were shooting the movie as he happened to be working on another film at the same location.

However he didn't need much persuading to join the project when it was first presented to him by Sir Howard Panter - the founder and creative director of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which is staging the production - more than a year ago.

'Not a song and dance guy'

"I thought it was a great story and when I heard the music I rang Howard and said I'm your man," he says.

Hound, on the other hand, needed a bit more convincing.

"The casting director had seen me in One Man Two Guv'nors and he felt there was enough similarity between Freddy Benson and Francis Henshall that it would be easy for me to do," he explains.

"I said 'no, what are you doing? I'm not a song and dance guy'. Sometimes casting directors get a bunch of people in just to make up numbers because they've got one person they really want to do it - but they said they were serious.

"I worked with the musical director for a couple of hours and sang one of the show's big numbers and he said: 'You could learn how to do this properly, but it's already sounding ok'.

"And I was suddenly aware I was being offered the chance to sing a bunch of amazing songs."

Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption Samantha Bond and John Marquez also star, with Bond's US character becoming English for this show

The West End production is pretty faithful to the Broadway version, although Lindsay says it has been "anglophiled around the edges", including making character Muriel Eubanks - played by Samantha Bond who initially falls for Lawrence's charms - English rather than American.

With Hound a newcomer to musicals and Lindsay an old hand having previously won awards for Me and My Girl and Oliver!, the star says the only advice he gave to the comedian was to "take it easy".

"That's the danger from doing eight shows a week in the West End - you've got to sit on certain things you would normally do," he says.

"We've both got families and that's a priority for us."

Hound agrees with the sentiment: "We're totally about delivering this big Broadway classy spectacular, but if my kids have got a school play I'm going to take that day off.

"There's an old-fashioned idea that to be in the theatre means every atom of your being is in it. It doesn't mean when you're working that isn't what you're putting in, [but having a family] is the thing that keeps you grounded.

"The reason half of those old actors drank themselves to death was that there was no one around them giving them a reason to be outside of the adoration of a thousand strangers every night - and that's an intensely lonely place to be."

Fans of the film will inevitably be looking for certain gags and references in the musical, but Hound says it's a "fool's errand" to expect an exact replica of the movie on stage.

"I think smart people understand you can tell a story in different ways - there's all sorts of things you can do in cinema that you absolutely cannot do live," he says.

"Our show is an entity entirely of its own that will be out there, night after night, bringing you one of the best musicals that has ever existed."

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opens on 2 April at the Savoy Theatre.

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