Despite not knowing each other before rehearsals (Rufus was a huge fan of Robert whereas one of Robert’s children had to tell him who Rufus was), the pair get on like a house on fire. They play conmen Lawrence Jameson and Freddy Benson who compete for the riches and heart of the young impressionable heiress Christine Colgate (played by the sensational Katherine Kingsley).
As if starring in a new West End musical wasn’t stressful enough, Robert and Rufus follow in the footsteps of Michael Caine and Steve Martin who starred in the 1988 film directed by Frank Oz. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2005 but has since been reconceived and reimagined for British audiences.
You may presume that getting a big scale, West End musical up on its feet would take some time, but when I recently sat down with Rufus and Robert for a chat they told me otherwise. Rufus said, “The remarkable thing for me was that the show was on its feet very quickly. I think the British way of working is one of sitting around a table for a couple of weeks, chewing a pencil and talking about who these people are and where they are from. The American approach is much like - that’s where you’re going to stand, that’s what’s going to happen, the staircase is going to move and those things are going to fly in.”
The man behind this American approach is Broadway Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell whose last West End show, Legally Blonde, was a huge hit. For Rufus, who was most recently seen in the West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors, at first the American approach was slightly overwhelming, “I for one felt quite lost during that initial process; at times it was a bit like ‘hang on, what am I actually doing here?’”
But everything has worked out and he’s found the process hugely rewarding, “What’s been fascinating is the process of mechanically doing it without being able to overthink anything and, actually, when you do have a little bit of breathing time to think ‘hang on, what are the actual buttons in this,’ you already have a remarkable grasp of the story you’re telling and you feel like you can tailor that performance much more readily to what the show is going to be.”
Robert agrees, “Do you know what? Funnily enough I’ve also thought that.” It seems nobody has a bad word to say about Jerry who last year won a Tony Award for his choreography of Kinky Boots which is rumoured to be transferring to the West End next year. “Jerry is just brilliant” Robert told me, “he’s a showman and he knows exactly what he’s doing. He counts – they count these people! He puts things in order and for us, but we’re both freedom fighters [Rufus laughs], we know what we want to do but it’s been a little bit straightjacket for a while.”
But after spending weeks in the rehearsal room, what is it like to perform in front of an audience? “Suddenly having an audience has made us realise that now it’s ours and not anybody else’s” Robert explained, “We own it, I look at Rufus and can see his little taste buds going and I just know that when we both let go this is going to be wild.”
Whilst working on a huge West End musical like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is hard work, the pair are certainly enjoying the experience. “We’ve had lots of conversations and the big thing for Robert was that he wanted to do a job and have a lot of fun” Rufus told me, “I can honestly tell you that since we’ve begun this process, don’t get me wrong it’s been hard work and we’ve taken it very seriously, but in its bones this thing is a real thrill ride.”
Performing eight shows a week is no easy task, but is something that Olivier, Tony and BAFTA award-winning Robert is very used to doing. “Some nights you get in the theatre and if you’ve had a bad day, the kids have toothache or you’ve under-slept or whatever – suddenly you hear that overture and you think ‘I’ll go for it’. It’s because suddenly you know there is a live audience out there who have all paid and have their own problems as well, you know: ‘It’s too hot in this theatre, I’ve paid all this money and that man is taking pictures and won’t shut up.’ Then the show starts and everything falls into place.”
And finally, why should you book tickets to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? Rufus’ face lit up, “It will put a big goofy smile on your face!”
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opens at the Savoy Theatre on Wednesday 2nd April 2014 (previews from 10th March) and is currently booking until 29th November 2014