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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
at Chichester Festival Theatre

MUSICAL IN DISTRESS
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Summer Strallen and Richard Fleeshman/ Ph: Johan Persson

A Damsel in Distress, a new musical based on the 1919 novel by P.G. Wodehouse and the 1928 play Wodehouse wrote in collaboration with Ian Hay, begins with rehearsals of a show called Kitty in the City – itself in dire distress. Despite Kitty being such a smash on Broadway, its composer, Gorge Bevan (Richard Fleeshman) is having second thoughts about its imminent West End transfer. It’s too frivolous, he thinks; it lacks depth. He wants major cuts and changes and is in the process of upsetting his cast, his director and the crew.

The problems facing Kitty in the City are the same problems facing Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson’s musical adaptation of A Damsel in Distress. After Chichester’s wonderful productions of Guys and Dolls and Gypsy, their first musical of the new season is a real clunker.

Yes, I’m aware that the material belongs to the zany, whimsical world of 1920’s Wodehouse in which nothing is to be taken seriously, but Wodehouse at least knew how to construct a farce and mould his plots into humorous works of art. On the evidence of this numbingly silly contrivance, the same cannot be said for Sams and Hudson.

Their book kicks off when a rehearsal for Kitty in the City is interrupted by the appearance of pretty Maud Marshmoreton (Summer Strallen), who, in an attempt to escape the demands of Lady Caroline Byng (Isla Blair), her autocratic aunt, just happens to rush backstage of the Savoy Theatre, where she catches the eye of handsome George Bevan.

I’ll spare you the inane details of what passes for narrative, but the gist of it is that the entire company of Kitty in the City make their way to a castle called Totleigh Towers, the Marshmoreton’s ancestral pile in Gloucestershire, where love conquers no fewer than four couples – including the overbearing Lady Caroline and her long-suffering, pig-breeding brother (Nicholas Farrell).

As was the case with such musicals as Crazy for You, My One and Only and more recently Nice Work if You Can Get It and Broadway’s current An American In Paris, a clutch of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, some of which you’ll know ("Things Are Looking Up," "Stiff Upper Lip," "Love Walked In") and others with which you’ll be less familiar ("Mine," "You Are You," "Soon" and "I’m a Poached Egg"), provide something to sing and dance about. On this occasion, however, the songs are not enough.

To give you some idea of how misguided this production is, the two romantic leads – Maud (who has ben protectively banished to the uppermost tower in the castle) and George, the man to whom she finally gives her heart - never get to sing a romantic duet!

And of all the great love songs written by the brothers Gershwin, why on Earth does the show end with "A Foggy Day?" It’s a good song, to be sure, but it’s not finale material and has absolutely nothing to do with anything that precedes it. This is a brainstorm on behalf of the usually reliable Rob Ashford, the show’s director-choreographer. What could he have been thinking?

An enthusiastic cast, aware of the one dimensionality of the characters they have to play, over-compensate by over-acting and shouting a great deal. And with the exceptions (barely) of Sally Ann Triplett as Billie Dore, the leading lady of Kitty in the City, Fleeshman as George and David Roberts in the marginal but showy role of Pierre, the French chef, the less said about the company the better. The same could be said of Ashford’s tired dance routines and Christopher Oram’s sets: Why does an enormous cut-out of Betty Boop dominate a show called Kitty in the City? Don’t ask. Nothing makes any sense.

 


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