“He sang my name and it rang out just like some major chord.
If music be the food of love, he ate my Smorgasbord.”
Things didn’t start off well. Applauding an actor’s arrival onstage is something I can’t ever imagine finding ok and when that actor is Robert Lindsay, well, it felt even more inexplicable. But then I never watched My Family so my main points of reference for him have been Onassis and The Lion in Winter, a dubious pair of plays indeed. Nor have I seen the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical adaptation of which sees him return to the stage, here at the Savoy after well-received out of town tryouts, so there was more than a little apprehension mixed in with my anticipation.
But any doubts were soon allayed by the effervescent energy of an old-school but fresh-feeling production by Jerry Mitchell. First seen on Broadway in 2004, Jeffrey Lane’s book and David Yazbek’s music and lyrics sits happily in the sun-kissed French Riviera where con men are two a penny. And in Beaumont-sur-Mer, the two are Lawrence Jamieson, the reigning king of the con, and Freddy Benson, the brash upstart who would take his crown. First they compete for tricks, scamming whoever they can for whatever they can, and then they unite to form a double act with, hopefully, double the profits as they identify the lucrative mark of US heiress Christine Colgate.
There is something warmly old-fashioned about the show, its considerable humour more gentle than sharp, and in a theatrical landscape that seems determined to celebrate either jukebox behemoths or stridently atypical pieces, it makes for a refreshing change as a piece of purely entertaining musical theatre. Yazbek’s score may not contain many surprises but is supremely and elegantly tuneful, lyrical flourishes frequently raising a smile, and Lane’s book revels in the campness of life by the Med. Its bursts of sunshine soon melted away my wearied scepticism and it got more than a few genuine laughs out of me (the squashed dog is still making me chuckle now).
Mitchell’s production is assisted by an excellent cast. Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound may be the faces that appear on many of the posters, and they are admittedly amusing as the charming conmen, but the real delights come further down the castlist. It will be of no surprise to those in the know that it is Katherine Kingsley’s show, as Christine she is the standout performance with undeniable star quality, splendid comic timing and that magnificent voice turning all heads towards her. And as a most delightful subplot, Samantha Bond – showing off a beautifully warm voice of her own – and John Marquez make a hugely appealing pair of would-be lovers.
Kingsley aside though, the real star for me was the stunning lighting design of Howard Harrison, boldly colourful and visually striking against Peter McKintosh’s well-designed set, it perfectly characterises the optimistic spirit of this feel-good show. If you’ve booked already, you’ll probably already be looking forward to it but for me, it turned out to be a most pleasant surprise.