Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jerry Mitchell - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Jerry Mitchell had never watched the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when he was asked to choreograph David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's stage musical of the Frank Oz directed 1988 big screen vehicle for Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That was back in 2004, and by the following year the American born dancer turned director and choreographer was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Choreography on the show's original Broadway production, which ran for some 626 performances.

A decade on, and Mitchell revisited the show for a UK production which he both directed and choreographed on the West End. With the production being nominated for an Olivier Award, again for Best Choreography, Mitchell jetted in to London in April to attend the award ceremony in-between overseeing rehearsals for a touring version that arrives in Glasgow tonight prior to dates in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Oz's original caper movie about a couple of middle-aged con artists competing to scam wealthy women on the French Riviera may not have looked like an obvious choice for a hit musical when it first appeared, but since he saw it Mitchell has become a life-long fan.

“I laughed my ass off when I saw the movie,” he says now on a brief break during his whistle-stop London visit,. “I'd worked with Frank Oz, and the movie of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was so funny, so I had a blast the first time I worked on it, and to go back to it and rework it for the West End and on tour like this is a joy. The West End production came about after I'd done Legally Blonde here, and I formed a company with Ambassador Theatre Group to help start and promote new musicals. Although I'd never done Dirty Rotten Scoundrels here, I loved it so much that I thought the humour would work better here than it did in America, and here we are.”

With the original London cast of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels featuring the likes of Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound, Mitchell is full of praise for his current company. This includes former Robin of Sherwood star Michael Praed, ex member of TV reality show created pop band, Hear'Say, Noel Sullivan, and former Hollyoaks starlet Carly Stenson. Also in the cast is Waterloo Road star Mark Benton, with Gary Wilmot stepping in for the Edinburgh dates in September.

“Carly is so beautiful,” Mitchell says, “and she plays that mature cool so well. She also sings beautifully. Noel I was already a big fan of, and I'm even more so now. When Michael first came in to see me he sang Love Sneaks In, and out of all the great men who played that part, nobody delivered it better. Mark auditioned for the West End production, and I already knew him from Hairspray, so it's all worked out great.”

Mitchell may not have initially been au fait with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels a decade a go, but he had worked with the film's director before when he choreographed Oz's 1997 feature film, In and Out. Other film work includes choreographing Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman, and directing a TV movie of Legally Blonde: The Musical.

Having worked on stage versions of other hit movies including Hairspray and The Full Monty – both originally directed by Jack O'Brien, who also looked after the first production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - as well as directing Legally Blonde: The Musical and this current take on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mitchell has become something of a go-to guy for such big-scale song and dance shows. He won a Tony for Cindi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's take on Kinky Boots, which he has also just directed in the West End.

While far from blasé about his shelf-full of awards, Mitchell is also pragmatic about how they sometimes work.
 
“This is the third or fourth time I've been nominated,” Mitchell says “and I do have one Olivier Award for my production of Legally Blonde, so I don't expect to win this time, but it's still great to be nominated, even though its kind of weird to be nominated alongside my peers for something completely different.”

Mitchell's early career saw him dance in several Broadway shows before receiving his first professional production credit in the 1990 musical of Jekyll and Hyde. He followed this with a revival of the Peanuts-based musical, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, before really hitting the big time with his work over the last decade that has also seen him direct and choreograph shows in Las Vegas, as well as becoming a mentor on dance-based TV reality shows.

Returning to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mitchell has kept the essence of the show, even as he has tweaked it slightly for a UK audience.

“There's a real immediacy to this show that I love,” he says, “and I try to put that into an audience's lap in the same way I did with Hairspray, and the same way I did with Legally Blonde and the same way I did with Kinky Boots. With this show as well, the music is so great, and the comedy works so well that it can't help but be immediate.”

Hearing him talk like this, it is clear that Mitchell's unabashed enthusiasm for both Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and his work beyond it remains undimmed.

“I do this because I love the work,” he says, “whether it's in the West End or on Broadway. I love the community it creates, and anything else is icing on the cake.”

After almost forty years in the business, he sees the value too in these times of austerity of something which, for all its glamour and glitz, is in effect a Robin Hood style story

“In today's world,” says Mitchell, “I think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a chance to go to the theatre to be totally entertained, and instead of everything else that's going on, we have this chance to have a wonderfully romantic evening. In that way I think musical comedy is a wonderful respite from what's going on in this world.”

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, King's Theatre, Glasgow, June 23-27; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, July 21-25; Edinburgh Playhouse, September 14-19.
www.scoundrelsontour.com

The Herald, June 23rd 2015

ends

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