The best moment of proper musical-theatre comedy in this slick hard-hearted show comes not from its principals (though they do get a good few) but from a sideshow event from Lizzy Connolly. Stepping forward from the ensemble on her West End debut as “Jolene Oakes”, this splendid gal plays an oil millionairess targeted by Robert Lindsay, the a smooth Riviera con-man posing as a deposed European royal.


Jolene abruptly decides they are engaged and will live in “Oklahoma! Where the chief cause of death is melanoma! Not a tree or a Jew to block the lovely view…oh, dontcha love it when the bobcats howl!”. As Lindsay gapes, appalled, she clicks her fingers, pulls out a six-gun and brings up a grim desert oilrig backcloth and a hellish line-dance of cowboys: she leads them in a wild, thunder-thighed, high- kicking dance fit to shrivel the testicles of the smooth Euro-boulevardier. Lovely.
But, in one of the uncomfortably uneven moments of Jerry Mitchell’s production, the two con-men – Lindsay and his apprentice Rufus Hound – decide to put her off by pretending that Rufus is “Ruprecht”, his inbred idiot brother who will live with them. Hound – a crude enough actor at best, and playing the crudest of the characters – performs the idiot role with a gurning, dribbling, jerking, masturbating repulsiveness (not to mention a lyric about KY Jelly on a rubber glove). It is offensive enough to neutralize any pleasure in the show for anybody remotely acquainted with mental impairment.
Which is a surprise, given that Hound is a politically minded comedian so righteous about NHS changes that he lately blogged “David (Cameron) and Jeremy (Hunt) want your kids to die unless you’re rich… Why can’t they take that big pot of money ear-marked for medicine and just start sharing it out amongst themselves?


Given that sequence, and the prolonged wheelchair-jokes in the second half when he pretends to be a soldier with traumatic paralysis, one does tend to keep an uneasy eyebrow up throughout Hound’s reasonably competent comic performance. Can’t love him. Luckily, however, you absolutely can love Robert Lindsay, who not only swings an elegant leg and preens beautifully as the leading con-man, but handles his faint dawning of conscience with proper rounded humanity. The same goes for Samantha Bond, a comedienne who knows precisely the weight to give both to the rich Muriel Eubank’s absurdities and to her needy wistfulness. To see her playing against John Marquez’ crooked police-chief in the second act is a treat. And Katherine Kingsley, as the kingpin of the twisty plot, deploys all the joyful vigour which made her Helena for Michael Grandage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream a delight. And wow, can she belt out the big numbers..


Otherwise, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell (who gave us Legally Blonde the Musical and launched the splendid Sheridan Smith to glory) delivers fine comic dance routines: you can see why he wins Tonys. Yet this show, (music and lyrics by David Yazbek, book by Jeffrey Lane, spun off from a 1988 Michael Caine and Steve Martin film) is haunted by that peculiar Broadway quality of uncertain heart. Legally Blonde was heart all the way; this, and not only because of its double-sting plot, misses too many beats for comfort.


Still, there’s a kind of genius in some of the sillier lyrics: not least Hound singing “I’m alone and cold and damp..you lit the light to my exit ramp”. And Lindsay does get to sum up his fellow-conman (and co-star) in the line “What you lack in grace you make up for in vulgarity”. Yess…..
box office http://www.atgtickets.com to 29 Nov

Rating: 3   3 Meece Rating

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