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‘Dirty’ secret

LONDON — It’s early days, but one can always hope: Director Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray”) and his composer on “The Full Monty,” David Yazbek, have found another film source they would like to make sing on stage — “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” the 1988 caper movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as con men.

O’Brien mentioned interest in the project 24 hours after winning raves in the British press for his National Theater debut for “His Girl Friday” (see review, page 34) and 48 hours before winning his first Tony Award back in New York for “Hairspray.”

Not for this director the musical retreads that, after a while, are surely going to run dry: “I don’t want to do revivals; I’d rather spend my time on new works rather than polishing someone else’s.”

While any actual staging is several years (at least) away — O’Brien’s California home, the Globe, is the logical starting point. One can envision some sunny sets: The film takes place on the French Riviera.


Don’t expect any new songs from Rod Stewart this fall when “Tonight’s the Night” has its London preem, marking the latest West End musical to plunder the back catalog of one pop group or another, following “Mamma Mia!” (Abba), “We Will Rock You” (Queen) and “Our House” (Madness).

Asked whether the 22 songs folded into writer-director Ben Elton‘s narrative for “Tonight’s the Night” might contain any surprises (i.e., something fresh), the 58-year-old Stewart looked appalled at the thought. “God, no,” he told Variety during the musical’s June 10 London launch at Covent Garden eatery Joe Allen. “I haven’t the patience for that.”

And who cares, anyway, given an extant repertoire that found cast members Tim Howar, Mike McKell, Dianne Pilkington and Hannah Waddingham raising the restaurant’s roof with “D’Ya Think I’m Sexy,” “Stay With Me” and “Sailing,” among others? That left it to a group known as the Four Poofs — no, I’m not kidding — to tackle (very enjoyably) the title song. (Howar, a 33-year-old Canadian now living in London, is the partner of British diva Ruthie Henshall and father of their 4-month-old daughter.)

The show begins previews Oct. 15 at the Victoria Palace and opens Nov. 6, with Elton — the scribe responsible for both “We Will Rock You” and Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s well-reviewed flop “The Beautiful Game” — directing his first London show since the play “Silly Cow” in 1991; Lez Brotherston, the Tony-winning costumer of Matthew Bourne‘s “Swan Lake,” is designing.

“Tonight’s the Night’s” budget is £4 million ($6.6 million), with an additional $1.65 million earmarked for marketing. The show should top out at a steep (for London) £50 ($82.50) top ticket. Explained co-producer Phil McIntyre: “We’re trying to catch up with Broadway.”

As to catching the approval of the critics, something “We Will Rock You” pretty roundly failed to do, McIntyre pointed to one hopeful omen. Starting Aug. 18, “Tonight’s the Night” will rehearse at the Royal Shakespeare Co. rehearsal rooms, a site chosen, McIntyre smiled, “to give (the show) some weight.”


Who needs good reviews, on the other hand, when you’ve got a hit regardless? That’s a question McIntyre & Co. must have been asking themselves over the past year, purring at the answer that has come with the recoupment last month of “We Will Rock You’s” entire $11.14 million budget. (Its theater, the 2,100-seat Dominion, helped the relatively speedy payback.)

The technology-heavy extravaganza, co-produced by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal‘s New York-based Tribeca Prods., has played to 90% across the year, says McIntyre, a feat among current West End tuners that only “The Lion King” can consistently claim.

That explains the absence from the “Tonight’s the Night” launch of Elton, who was in Australia helping prep the Aug. 1 opening in Melbourne of “We Will Rock You,” which after six months shifts to Sydney. Madrid gets “Rock You” in November — “Brian May loves Madrid,” explains McIntyre of the somewhat unusual choice — while North America is on tap for 2004, starting in Toronto with a U.S. tour to follow.

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