Video glimpse of A Damsel in Distress rehearsals at Chichester Festival Theatre

Summer Strallen and Richard Fleeshman in A Damsel in Distress rehearsals. Photo Johan Persson
Summer Strallen and Richard Fleeshman in A Damsel in Distress rehearsals. Photo Johan Persson

Summer Strallen makes her Chichester Festival Theatre debut in A Damsel in Distress, the new musical playing in the main-house from May 30-June 27.

She will be the distressed damsel in question– though she’s certainly not feeling it at the moment: “I am having such fun! Having Rob Ashford direct is an absolute joy. I worked with him on Guys & Dolls in 2006. He wasn’t directing then. He was choreographing it, and he is so wonderful to work with.”

In between times, Summer has scored great success in Top Hat, originating the role of Dale in the West End.

“I then did the first tour of Top Hat. It was so enjoyable… for the same reasons A Damsel in Distress is so enjoyable now, just such a great combination of great show, a really funny script and just such a joy to work on.”

In the show, George is an American composer working at the Savoy Theatre in London. Maud (Summer) is the thoroughly-English Lady Marshmoreton, a beautiful socialite who lives in a castle with a ha-ha and a drawbridge.

They really shouldn’t have met because George needs to complete his musical and Maud needs to marry most urgently and already has someone totally-unsuitable in mind. Luckily Maud’s fierce aunt, Lady Caroline, has a solution – she’s going to lock her lusty charge in the tower.

“There is something so international about the story. Everyone has seen love. Everyone has seen someone fall in love or, in this case, the quest to help a damsel in distress. I am that damsel, and she is certainly not a wallflower. She is pretty feisty. She lives in a castle, and her aunt is a bit of a battle-axe and banishes her to the tower of the castle.

“She is sparky. She is a modern girl. She is someone that certainly would say boo to a goose… not a million miles away from Dale in Top Hat, but a little bit more flirty.”

The show comes with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson, based on the novel by P G Wodehouse.

Summer admits she doesn’t really know the history of it all: “But in this version, it is 100 per cent new, and I just know that what I am doing is completely new. It is great when you are not taking over from someone, when you are actually creating something.

“You have a greater freedom. It’s such a pleasure to be able to create something. It means that you can put your own little stamp on it. You just have to learn it the way you are going to learn it. No one else is going to learn it that way. But it is like you are putting down a template for other people to follow in the future.”

For Summer, it’s a return to the boards: “I have been out for quite a long time. Top Hat tired me out for a while. I had to take a break. I have been out for about a year and a half. I was just having a bit of time to recuperate. It’s quite heady when you are in a long production doing four months on the road and six months in town. It is quite a long journey.

“I was still doing little bits of TV here and there. I love doing TV, but because TV is such short contracts, in a way you have to put yourself out of work in order to be able to do it. I decided to take a break from theatre, and I always felt I had to come back to the right thing.”

Tickets on 01243 781312.