JASON Manford has never been one to duck a challenge and he’s already preparing for his next big test.

In the autumn, he will tour the country in a new production of the award-winning musical whodunnit Curtains.

Jason will play Detective Frank Cioffi, a huge musical theatre fan who is called in to investigate when the star of a Broadway-bound show is murdered on opening night.

Curtains features songs by Kander and Ebb who also worked on Cabaret and Chicago. It will preview in Bromley before opening in Manchester in October.

“We start rehearsing at the end of August,” said Jason. “but I’ve started work on it already - that’s the sort of person I am.

“There are people in the show who have been training and dancing for years. I can learn choreography - I tap danced in The Producers and did the Old Bamboo in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - but it does take me a lot longer to get prepared than people who have been in musicals for years.”

Even after starring roles in The Producers and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jason acknowledges that many fans still just see him as a comedian.

“Occasionally I do think ‘surely you know by now that I’ve one other things?’ - it’s not like I’ve hid it under a bushel. But I do like to surprise people.”

Through his own sell-out stand-up tours and appearances on shows such as Eight Out of 10 Cats, Jason, 38, has become one of the most recognisable faces on TV.

And as such, his is the name which features most prominently on the posters for Curtains.

“There is extra pressure on you because you are the first name on the poster,” he said. “Even the audience come along with that expectation and I think you have to beat that. Touch wood I think I have done that in the shows I have done so far.

“Like any job you do it comes from preparation and practice and putting the hours in. When it comes to doing those eight shows a week you are just thankful that you put all that work in in June. It’s an investment that pays off in the end.”

Although Curtains won awards on Broadway, Jason admits that in this country it’s not a show many people will be familiar with.

“This is the first time that I have done a show that hardly anyone’s heard of,” he said, “which will be an interesting challenge. But the thing for me is that I’d never take a job that I didn’t think I could nail.

“What’s good for me here is that I can really create my character from scratch as the audiences won’t have real expectations of who Frank is.

“He’s a guy who loves showbusiness but who happens to be a really brilliant homicide detective.”

There may be people who are sceptical about the idea of a whodunnit musical, but Jason can reassure them.

“When I was reading the script for the first time I didn’t work out who had done the murder,” he said. “It’s done well enough that you can approach it as a genuine whodunnit. We all love a good mystery don’t we? And as an audience member you will be guessing right until the end.

“But it’s also got some brilliantly funny characters in there - my character isn’t even close to being the funniest one in the show.

“It’s got all the components to be a brilliantly successful musical.”

In Curtains Jason will be joined by Carley Stenson, who first came to prominence in Hollyoaks before going on to become one of the most in-demand performers in the West End. She is currently starring in Les Miserables in London.

The cast will also include TV presenter and Strictly Come Dancing champion Ore Oduba.

Jason can’t wait to bring the show to his home city of Manchester.

“It does put the pressure on a bit,” he said, “but the people are just great. They are genuinely proud of you and so supportive. They actually like it when somebody from here does well.”

Apart from taking dance classes, Jason aims to take it relatively easy over the summer. In August he will be headlining the comedy night at Blackpool’s Livewire Festival before beginning rehearsals for Curtains which will then keep him busy until April.

“This was the first time I’ve ever been asked what my ideal schedule would be,” he said. “I said I can’t start til after the summer holidays, I’ll need an October half term and February half term off, a few weeks at Christmas and I’ll need to be finished for Easter. And they just went OK.

“That’s absolutely unheard of in this business.

“I’m hoping that when I meet the cast and get into that rehearsal room and they discover they have this time off over Christmas I’ll be something of a hero. At least, that’s my aim.”

Curtains, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, October 8 to Saturday, October 12. Details from www.atgtickets.com