A one-man parade of Wodehouse wit; Jeeves Takes Charge. Conceived and adapted by Edward Duke from the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. Starring Mr. Duke. Directed by Gillian Lynne.
New York — The wonderful world of P.G. Wodehouse has come dashingly alive at the Downstairs Space at City Center in the persons of the two most famous Wodehouse worldlings. They are, of course, the ever-unflappable Reginald Jeeves and the ever-flappable Bertram Wooster. The 1920s man-about-town and the indispensable gentleman's gentleman share honors in ''Jeeves Takes Charge,'' adapted from Wodehouse stories by Edward Duke.
Mr. Duke, a British actor chappie, plays both master and masterly servant as well as 10 other roles from the Wodehouse portrait gallery. Since Mr. Duke wasn't born until 1953, his smashing rapprochement with Wodehouse wit and humor is a testament to diligent study and histrionic prowess, not to mention the timeless appeal of the stories themselves.
''Jeeves Takes Charge'' divides into two acts, each with two scenes. For openers, the ineffable Bertie recalls how Jeeves came into his life and immediately disparaged the ''rather sprightly young check'' suit the master-to-be was injudicious enough to be sporting on the occasion of their first interview. The second scene concerns the impromptu excursion to the girls school where Bertie (with a little surreptitious sabotage from Jeeves) discovers how ill prepared he is to entertain his three small nieces as houseguests.
''Wooster in Wonderland,'' the second part of the entertainment, begins by furthering Bertie's education in matters of romance and family public relations. The final episode recounts what happens when Bertie yields to Aunt Dahlia's threatening entreaties to make an appearance at her annual village fete. Mr. Duke climaxes his performance by singing ''Sonny Boy'' and ''Look for the Silver Lining'' and by tripping a bit of light tap-fantastic. While he need give Tommy Tune no concern, it must be said that, for a member of the Drones Club, Bertie is positively Astairical.
With changes of voice (from baritone to falsetto) and of aspect, Mr. Duke parades a sampling of Wodehouse familiars across the small stage. For Bertie, he has developed a guffaw that would make a donkey's bray sound like a gentle whinny. The aforementioned characters include Florence Craye, the fiancee from whom he becomes disengaged; Uncle Willoughby, the family memoirist; Edwin, the beastly Boy Scout; Gussie Fink-Nottle, the newt-lover; Madeline Bassett, Gussie's fiancee; and the ''mastodon'' aunts. Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton gets a mention, but unfortunately Uncle Fred doesn't even flit by.
What one can do is applaud the vividness and affection with which Mr. Duke recaptures the blithe spirit of the Wodehouse creations - what Evelyn Waugh called ''a world for us to live and delight in.'' Since one-man shows don't happen by themselves, the applause must also be directed toward director Gillian Lynne, designers Carl Toms (settings), Una-Mary Parker (costumes), Craig Miller (lighting), and Susan Holderness (choreography). Jolly good show. Pip-pip!