A Damsel in Distress - A New Stage Musical

Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson, based on the novel by P G Wodehouse and the play by P G Wodehouse and Ian Hay. Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin

Chichester Festival Theatre

Chichester Festival Theatre

From 10 June 2015 to 27 June 2015

Review by Sheila Connor

This, the first of this season’s musicals (Mack and Mabel to follow in July) is not the big, brash, spectacular, all-singing, all-dancing show you might have expected on the huge Festival stage.

Instead, gloriously and hilariously silly, it is a parody of English eccentricity, particularly that of the upper classes, as seen through American eyes, with a bit of fairytale humour thrown in and plenty of some rather unexpected romances.

To begin, we find Broadway composer George Bevan rehearsing a musical show at the Savoy Theatre where he briefly encounters upper class Maud Marshmoreton, who lives in a castle, Totleigh Towers, and Christopher Oram has designed a very impressive set which switches seamlessly between the two.

George, having decided that he has probably just met the love of his life, follows her home, but the lady has another prospective suitor in mind, with the added complication that her aunt, the formidable Lady Caroline Byne, is insisting that she marry her son Reggie, who also has another in mind.

As if that wasn’t complication enough, the star of the Savoy show decides to visit Totleigh Towers too and strikes up a friendship with Lord Marshmoreton, who has what must be the most unlikely chat-up line ever: “Would you like to see my pigs?”

Will she take him up on his offer? Will George slay the dragon and rescue the damsel from the tower? Will Pierre the cook and Dorcas the undercook manage to prepare a fabulous buffet before Lady Caroline notices, and will it all end happily ever after? Well of course it will—it’s that sort of show.

Wodehouse’s novel, published in 1919, has had a long and varied life, published first in 1919 and made into a silent movie the same year. It was then adapted (by Wodehouse and Ian Hay) for the stage and opened in London in 1928, running for 234 performances. It once again became a movie as a vehicle for Fred Astaire and his astounding performance incorporating a drum kit into his dance number. Adapted yet again, this is a new musical, and possibly the best ever version.

There is a cast of over 30 with almost every one a named character, and some terrific stand-out performances. Sally Ann Triplett excels as musical comedy star Billie Dore, Melle Stewart sparkles as the very helpful maid Alice Keggs, with Desmond Barrit as Keggs, the Shakespeare quoting butler, Nicholas Farrell’s Lord Marshmoreton finally standing up to his sister, Richard Dempsey as her dutiful son Reggie, and Summer Strallen as the cool but romantically confused Maud.

Last, but by no means least, is Isla Blair’s intimidating Lady Caroline in fine form (and voice) taking control of the stage, and her Borzoi, with authoritative panache.

Great tap dancing (loved the servants), and superb musical numbers including "A Foggy Day", "Nice Work if you can Get It", and Reggie’s crazy "I’m a Poached Egg". "Fidgety Feet" is a gem and "The French Pastry Walk" tango with David Roberts and Chloe Hart is not to be missed.

Crazy, hilarious and tremendous fun—great show!