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A Damsel in Distress (Chichester Festival Theatre)

CFT has another hit on its hands with the Gershwin musical

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Melle Stewart (Alice) and Summer Strallen (Maud)
© Johan Persson

Take a PG Wodehouse story, throw in some George Gershwin songs and add that Chichester musical stardust and you should have a sure-fire winner. That seems to be the theory behind Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson's adaptation Wodehouse's A Damsel in Distress.

And by golly it works. It does take a while to get going: the vocals in the first number are almost inaudible and there's so much heavy exposition in the first 15 minutes that there may as well be a loudspeaker announcement, but the show quickly finds its feet and delivers with some punch.

That it works so well is down to some spot-on casting. Richard Fleeshman and Summer Strallen breathe life into the American songwriter and English aristocrat - the eponymous damsel - whose romance lies at the heart of the play.

Nicholas Farrell has enormous fun as Lord Marshmoreton; think Wodehouse's Lord Emsworth with added romance. Sally Ann Triplett is the Broadway star who finds love among the roses. Richard Dempsey is the silliest of silly asses, making Bertie Wooster look like Einstein, who wins the heart of Melle Stewart's resourceful Alice.

Desmond Barritt attacks the role of the Shakespeare-quoting butler, Keggs, with relish; Isla Blair is the most formidable of aunts; Sam Harrison only has a handful of lines as the stagestruck Bungo - but gets maximum value from them; while David Roberts gathers the biggest cheers of the night for his scene-stealing French chef, Pierre – as well as a nice turn as a harassed theatre director. All of them are winners.

Of course, if you have a selection of Gershwin songs on tap, you virtually have an instant musical. And there are plenty of excellent numbers, from the parody of Wodehouse's works, "Stiff Upper Lip", to the classic "A Foggy Day". The standout, however, is "French Pastry Walk", with some deft choreography involving some delicate-looking desserts and an imposing croquembouche.

There's an excellent set from Christopher Oram – with a neat theatrical trick to close the first half. Rob Ashford directs with such pizzazz that you don't care that the plot is thinner than one of Pierre's filo pastries; there's so much joy and sense of fun here that it doesn't really matter. A spiffing good show - what-ho.

A Damsel in Distress runs at Chichester Festival Theatre until 27 June