REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Sunderland Empire, until June 20

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Michael Praed (Lawrence), Carley Stenson (Christine), Noel Sullivan (Freddy) and Mark Benton (Andre).
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Michael Praed (Lawrence), Carley Stenson (Christine), Noel Sullivan (Freddy) and Mark Benton (Andre).

Loveable rogues, crafty conmen, dirty rotten scoundrels ... call them what you will, this musical lifts the lid on a lavish lifestyle enjoyed through somewhat underhand means.

Based on the 1988 movie of the same name, which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin, it actually transfers quite well to the stage.

The audience at the Sunderland Empire, the third stop on its UK tour after a successful run at the Savoy Theatre in the West End, were transported to the luxurious French Riviera resort of Beaumont-sur-Mer.

There, sophisticated conman Lawrence Jameson, played with a suave assurance by Michael Praed, revels in swindling cash, jewellery and just about anything from rich, upper-class women.

But his monopoly comes under threat from wide-boy Freddy Benson (Noel Sullivan), who wants a slice of the action. Beaumont-sur-Mer can’t accommodate them both, so they concoct a bet to be the first to scam millionaire soap heiress Christine Colgate (Carley Stenson) out of $50,000. But the target of their affections and tricks is not all she is cracked up to be.

The stage adaptation rarely reaches the levels of belly-aching hilarity, but it is nonetheless amusing and entertaining throughout. The musical numbers range from cute to spectacular, although none are chart-toppers.

Praed is so cool – he makes a real smooth criminal – he can sing, dance and pull off a multitude of convincing accents, commanding the stage at will. You could say he stole the show! So, what more could you want? Well, he somehow doesn’t quite have the charisma of Robert Lindsay, who made the part his own in the West End.

His two side-kicks enjoyed some of the funniest scenes, with Sullivan’s strong voice, relaxed manner and comic timing particularly impressing. And the North East’s Mark Benton will take some beating as Andre, Jameson’s bumbling, endearing cohort – his growing relationship with the dependable Geraldine Fitzgerald as con-victim Muriel Eubanks.

Hollyoaks star Stenson is equally as impressive, her acting ability and stirring voice adding to the obvious chemistry between the main players.

The musical rumbles along at no great pace until the introduction of the energetic Phoebe Coupe as another of Jameson’s victims, the country-and-western-loving Jolene Oakes, and her big number Oklahoma? It’s at this point that the show really takes off and you start to warm to the characters, the plot, some amazing dancing and the stunningly lavish set.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and left the Empire with a smile on my face, even if it wasn’t standing ovation material.