How are shows put together? Interviews with directors, musical directors and members of the creative team explain just how it's done.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Rehearsal Photo by David Ovenden
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" – A Musical
Sedos presents “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, a lively, vibrant musical, at the Bridewell Theatre, London.
Two Con Men and a Bet
Based on a film of the same name, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is an hilarious musical comedy with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Jeffrey Lane.
We are transported to the glitzy French Riviera to meet two very different con men, a beauty queen, and the upper-class society of the small resort of Beaumont-sur-Mer.
Our lovable rogues have their own very different methods of getting bored wealthy women to part with their cash. But the town isn’t big enough for both of them. Between them they decide that the first to make $50,000 will stay in Beaumont-sur-Mur and the loser must leave. Their target is the very wealthy and somewhat naïve American heiress, Christine Colgate.
“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is directed by Zoe Thomas-Webb, with musical direction by Chris Nelson and choreography by Jonathon Grant and Fiona McConachie. The choreography is imaginative and fast-paced and the music is sometimes extremely difficult but the company has mastered it well.
Good Job Sedos
What a job they’ve done! “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is by far one of the best Sedos shows I’ve seen. This might be an amateur group but there’s nothing amateur about this production. Another Sedos Triumph!
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Dress Rehearsal
Chris Nelson Spoke About the Musical Challenges in this Show
It’s one thing to have ideas about a production in your head, but it’s quite another thing to bring those ideas to fruition. Musical Director Chris Nelson spoke about some of the challenges. HubPages spoke exclusively to Chris:
HubPages: Chris - please tell us a bit about your background in musical theatre.
Chris: I’m actually a relative newcomer to musical theatre! Having spent most of my formative years playing in orchestras, I only discovered musical theatre a few years ago, which has somewhat belatedly opened up a brand-new world to me. I spent a few years playing in pit bands (“Guys and Dolls”, “One Man Two Guvnors” and “A Chorus Line)”, before turning my hand to music directing, with a large-scale pantomime at London’s Peacock Theatre in 2017.
I was eventually persuaded to try my hand at being on stage, and was fortunate enough to get the role of Booker T Washington in “Ragtime”, Sedos’ last large-scale musical before lockdown, which brought another level of appreciation of the work required to get a production out of someone’s head and onto a stage. When the chance to be involved in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” came up, I jumped at the opportunity, and here I am!
HubPages: Is it very difficult to move from playing in the band to being musical director of an entire show?
Chris: The jump between playing in the band and directing the music for an entire show is quite a large one as your role completely changes!
As a member of the rhythm section, my job is to provide a rock-solid foundation for everyone else to ornament with melody and harmony, making sure to be sensitive to what the conductor is trying to achieve. While it can be helpful in some numbers, it’s not always necessary to know in detail what other band members are doing. You also don’t have to teach anything!
As the musical director, my job is to really get under the skin of the score for three reasons:
– to enable me to figure out the most effective way of teaching the cast their harmonies;
– to act as a bridge between the cast and band, so the musicians can easily support the on-stage action; and
– to know who is doing what and when, to be able to highlight the important musical features.
While there are undoubtedly some skills that do transfer over, for the most part, being good at one does not necessarily mean you’ll be good at the other!
HubPages: When you held the auditions were you looking for any particular vocal qualities?
Chris: For the ensemble, I was very keen to ensure we had people with very solid intonation. The score contains lots of brilliant (if dissonant) harmonies that may feel counterintuitive to sing in context, so relies heavily on people who are confident that the note they are singing is the right one!
HubPages: For the leads, the roles require singers who are able to convey a large range of emotions; I was particularly keen to make sure people were as confident vocally being funny as they were serious, powerful as well as vulnerable, to give the contract that I think “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” needs to really bring it off the page.
HubgPages: What were the hardest challenges for you as musical director?
Chris: The vocals in this show are deceptively difficult – it requires a huge amount of precision, both in terms of intonation and rhythms, for this show to sound as effortless as it needs to!
A lot of the ensemble vocals feature scatting, wordless syllables being sung in a very improvisatory style, which is very hard to achieve as a group! The most effective way to get this to stick is repetition, so many rehearsals have been spent drilling the trickier sections of music, possibly to the cast’s annoyance!
HubPages: What do you feel are the most difficult aspects of the music from the cast’s point of view?
Chris: The lack of words and/or a clear melodic line in many of these scatty numbers separates this musical from many others. Further, as the score draws heavily on jazz and Latin influences, some of the chord progressions are very difficult, meaning that what the cast are singing rarely feels intuitive! This isn’t a show that will go in through osmosis – it takes a huge amount of conscious effort to get it right!
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Dress Rehearsal
Director Zoe Thomas-Webb Discusses Some of the Complexities of the Production
HubPages: Can you tell us about your background with Sedos.
Zoe: I previously directed two Edinburgh shows for Sedos which was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life and I also directed a production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”, which we were lucky enough to get to perform in the Royal Courts of Justice as a site-specific piece.
HubPages: Was Scoundrels a hard show to cast? What special qualities were you looking for at the auditions?
Zoe: We had an amazing array of talented people to choose from and I genuinely think we could have cast it a couple of times over. For me, the main thing we were looking for was people who were interested in being part of a team. This is a show about teamwork and you’ve got to surround yourself with people who want to dig in and get involved.
HubPages: You directed the Sedos production of “As You Like It” in 2012. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is such a very different production so how does your approach differ.
Zoe: I think my approach doesn’t differ that much actually even though they are such different styles of show. For me all theatre is about character and storytelling. If you are telling a story well with fully developed characters throughout then you’ve got a good show in my book. Sure “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” has more pratfalls and show stopping numbers than Shakespeare but they both know how to tell a great story.
HubPages: Did you have an “Aha” moment when something that seemed near impossible suddenly fell into place?
Zoe: 100% when Chris and Jonathon, one of the choreographers, agreed to do the show. When I pitched it, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do but Chris and Jonathon made those ideas really blossom. I feel very honoured to be working with them and I’ve had such a ball in the rehearsal room with such a great production team and cast.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Dress Rehearsal
Supporting Community Theatre
If you are interested in helping community theatre then Sedos could be the place for you.
New members are always welcome. Whatever your interests, the company enjoys a wide programme of workshops where members develop existing skills or acquire new skills.
The company is fully committed to diversity and inclusion and further details can be found on the Sedos website.
What Comes Next?
Sedos has a varied and exciting programme planned for 2022 including:
- “When the Rain Stops Falling” – 22nd-26th February 2022
- “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” – 22nd-26th March 2022
- “American Idiot” – 4th-14th May 2022
- “Love! Valour! Compassion!” – 5th-9th July 2022
- “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – 14th-24th September 2022
- “Carrie: The Musical” – 25th-29th October 2022
- “Amadeus” – 23rd November-3rd December 2022
Further information about workshops and performances can be obtained from their website. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is on at the Bridewell Theatre until 4th December 2021.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Songbook (PIANO, VOIX, GU)
Finding the Bridewell Theatre
© 2021 Frances Spiegel