DIRTY Rotten Scoundrels arrives hot on the Southend scene in its first touring production, following a successful run in London, and what turns out to be a well-reserved reputation for slickness and boisterous fun.

Anyone looking for darkness or musical innovation should stick to Sondheim. Scoundrels is a highly traditional, even old-fashioned musical romp – so much so that one of its highlights is a parody of the 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!

Yet as witty, non-complex entertainment, this tale of rival conmen certainly delivers the goods, at least when its two main characters are not hellbent on stealing them.

The show is set on the French Riviera in its golden days, when there was a uniformed bellhop in every corner and a widowed millionairess on every terrace. This gilded fantasy world is worked by suave English swindler Lawrence Jameson. Posing as an exiled prince, he specializes in fleecing rich middle-aged women. “Where there’s a will,” he sings, “there’s a way.”

In his own way, Lawrence is indeed a prince, a prince of conmen. But his reign is threatened by the arrival of a brash young American, Freddy Benson. What Freddy lacks in panache (despite claiming that he has “culture and sophistication pouring out of my ass”) he makes up for in drive and ingenuity.

Eventually the two con artistes make a pact. Whoever is the first to seduce the naïve young heiress Christine Colgate will have the town to himself. The other will be banned from working anywhere except Iceland and Basildon.

The competitiveness between the two starts to overshadow everything else. It becomes ever more frantic, and farcical, as Freddy adopts the pose of a crippled war hero and Lawrence becomes a fashionable Austrian psychiatrist. Yet the contest has a sting in the tail, and in the end both conmen end up outwitted.

The touring cast do a capable job in making this lightweight confection a night of roaring fun. Michael Praed manages to make the part of Lawrence his own, no mean feat when following Michael Caine (in the film) and Robert Lindsay (stage). The always terrific Gary Wilmot is funny and also at times quite touching as Lawrence’s sidekick, the cheerfully corrupt chief of police, and there a delicious turn from Phoebe Coupe as a wealthy cowgirl.

The real discovery of the night, however, is Noel Sullivan as Freddy, who delivers a performance of supercharged energy (particularly in his wheelchair scenes) and is clearly a face and a voice to watch and listen out for in the future.

The score is effective though unoriginal, but the lyrics keep you laughing. They also wash the show in a rich evocation of a Riviera scene that has long gone and may never have existed.

The mood and style of the show are summed up in the words sung by the naïve heroine, as she hits the Mediterranean for the first time. “The air is French, that chair is French, this nice sincere sancerre is French The skies are French, the pies are French, these fries are French.”

I would say that they don’t make shows like this any more, except that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels proves – happily -  that they do.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is at the Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff, until Sat Nov 14. 8pm nightly, mats Wed and Sat 2.30pm.