*Note: There have been cast changes since this review
"What you lack in grace, you make up for in vulgarity" says the suave Lawrence - Robert Lindsay - to the younger con-man Freddy (Rufus Hound). That could apply much of this 2004 musical of a 1988 Michael-Caine/Steve-Martin movie, with songs by David Yazbek and a book by Jeffrey Lane. It takes on the teasing double-sting plot of the film, but slightly increases the romantic line of the story. What grace it has is drawn from the Dior-ish Riviera elegance of the designs and costumes - by Peter McKintosh - and from the comically preening, beautifully controlled self-parodying grace of its star, Robert Lindsay. The vulgarity is provided by his co-star, Rufus Hound, and does at times (not least in his pretending to be a priapic mental defective) definitely go too far, beyond healthy vulgarity and into uncomfortable offence.
However, it'll be a grand hen-night outing, even if it does feel as if it is cynically designed to be one; and the production has all the marks of the sure hand of director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who gave us the superlative Legally Blonde the Musical in this theatre, launching Sheridan Smith. His Tony-winning Kinky Boots will come over from Broadway soonish. Lindsay and Hound play rival con-men, vieing for the attention of the heiress (Katherine Kingsley, a belting, hyperactive pleasure to watch). The previous target is an equally good Samantha Bond, absurd and wistful by turns, who in this version is given a love interest of her own with John Marquez . They achieve it with all the undignified sweetness of disappointed middle age.
Structurally, despite a string of self-referential showbiz jokes ("Have we already done this scene?" sort of thing) and a singing usherette in the front stalls joining in with the chorus of betrayed women you sometimes feel that there are too many Broadwayish set-piece love songs which don't move things on , and not much heart to it except from Samantha Bond and (briefly) from Lindsay. But theres a wholly hilarious C & W line-dance stirred up by a commanding Oklahoma oil heiress (welcome to the West End, Lizzy Connolly, you're a star to be!). And one forgives much for Robert Lindsay's sinuous, python-in-a suit absurdity and for lines like Bond's admiring description of him as he poses as a foreign prince "Magically long of lash, tragically short of cash". We've all met chaps like that.
"Most of the pleasure of the show depends on the relationship of this pair, and there is a fizzing on-stage chemistry between Robert Lindsay’s suave and practised deceiver, who offers a hilarious vocal imitation of our own Prince of Wales as he gulls his marks, and Rufus Hound’s oafish interloper."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"Every adaptation is burdened by the question ‘What’s the point?’...There is a point to this show, but it’s hardly an essential one."
John Nathan for The Independent
"It's not a show that extends the boundaries of the form, but one that simply, and happily, takes us back to the all-but-lost era of musical comedy."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"This is like a Muppet rendition of the comparatively mature, subtle film version . . .."
Ian Shuttleworth for The Financial Times