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|A CurtainUp London Review
A man is incomplete until he is married . . . and after that he’s finished! "Horace
Riding on the success of BBC Television’s dancing contest, Strictly Come Dancing where celebrities compete paired with professional dancers, comes this world premiere staging of RKO’s film Top Hat — the vehicle in 1935 for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who we are reminded, “did everything he did backwards . . . and in high heels”.
Tom Chambers, the 2008 winner of Strictly plays Jerry Travers, the American dance star who comes to London and falls for Dale Trenton played by Summer Strallen, one of the musically talented Strallen sisters.
The Male Ensemble in Top Hat
(Photo: Brinkhoff and Mogenburg)
This production may be all about the dance and it is pretty magical tap dancing but the enduring charm of the show for me are the wonderful tunes from Irving Berlin. From the joyous and vibrant opening number of “Putting on the Ritz” we know that we are in for a musical treat.
Tom Chambers sings well although his voice is slightly nasal but his dancing is more than adequate and he can act as well. Summer Strallen is an all rounder though her singing voice seemed stretched when she has to belt out the tunes. She is far better on the softer melodies.
You will love classic tunes like “Top Hat White Tie and Tails”, “Cheek to Cheek” and the wildly romantic show stopper “Let’s Face The Music And Dance”. The full ensemble dance numbers seem a bit ragged and overcrowded on the small Aldwych stage but what is lacking in slickness is made up for in enthusiasm. The orchestra is just wonderful and the overtures are divine.
The storyline doesn’t stand up to much sensible plotting, but hey ho you can’t have everything. Boy meets girl, girl thinks he’s married to her best friend, he follows her to Italy in between shows, girl agrees to marry someone else, enterprising butler discloses he was pretending to be the priest and the marriage is invalid. The comic intervention of the ridicule of the Latin lover Alberto Beddini (Ricardo Afonso) seems uncomfortably crass and sadly in need of updating.
Hildegarde Bechtler’s magnificent Art Deco set reappears in most scenes with the minimum of changing fuss as panels, sometimes awkwardly, partially cover parts of the stage; for instance, we see the carriage with impossibly smoothly turning wheels but no horse. In order to see Jerry dancing AND disturbing Dale Trenton in the hotel room below there is a shadow dancer (Alan Burkitt) raised up and seen just in outline, mirroring Jerry’s dance moves below while Dale tries to sleep in her bed below. There is a lovely scene with 1930s beachwear on the Venetian Lido as the show switches to Italy. The costumes too are beautiful but the famous ostrich feather dress worn in “Cheek to Cheek” that Astaire objected to has considerable fewer feathers on it in 2012.
The night I saw Top Hat people were coaching in from the Home Counties wearing their best glitter and fake tiaras decorated with feathers for this nostalgic night out, as the Dress Circle have been asked to dress up for the occasion. As they left they was a spring in their step and a romantic gleam in their eye as they hummed Irving Berlin’s fabulous tunes.
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Based on RKO’s Motion Picture
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Adapted for the Stage by Matthew White and Howard Jacques
Based on the screenplay by Dwight Taylor and Allan Scott
Directed by Matthew White
Starring: Tom Chambers, Summer Strallen, Martin Ball, Vivien Parry, Stephen Boswell, Ricardo Afonso
With: Lucy Jane Adcock, Lauren Appleby, Caroline Bateson, Jeremy Batt, Alan Burkitt, Hannah Cauchi, Matthew Cheney, Russell-Leighton Dixon, Charlotte Gale, Ian Goss, Fenton Gray, Alyn Hawke, Paul Kemble, Jenny Legg, Martin McCarthy, Grace McKee, Carly Meyers, Kay Murphy, Tom Partridge, Adam Rhys-Charles, Holly Rostron, Charles Ruhrmund, John Stacey, Callum Train, Alexandra Waite-Roberts
Choreography by Bill Deamer
Set: Hildegarde Bechtler
Costume: Jon Morrell
Hair and Wigs: Campbell Young
Musical Supervisor: Richard Balcombe
Dance Arrangements, and Musical Director: Gareth Valentine
Sound: Gareth Owen
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Musical Direction: Dan Jackson
Orchestrations and Arrangements: Chris Walker
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1712
Booking to 26th January 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th May 2012 performance at The Aldwych Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2B 4DF (Tube: Covent Garden)
- Puttin’ On The Ritz (Jerry Travers/Ensemble)
- No Strings I’m Fancy Free (Jerry Travers, Shadow Jerry, Hotel Maids, Hotel Porter)
- Hotel Sequence (Ensemble)
- I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket (Jerry Travers)
- Isn’t This A Lovely Day To Be Caught In The Rain? (Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont)
- You’re Easy To Dance With (Dale Tremont)
- What Is Love? (Soubrette, Female Ensemble)
- Top Hat, White Tie And Tails (Jerry Travers/Ensemble)
- The Piccolino (Company)
- Wild About You (Dale Tremont)
- Cheek To Cheek (Jerry Travers/Dale Tremont/Ensemble)
- Better Luck Next Time (Dale Tremont)
- Latins Know How (Alberto Beddini)
- Let’s Face The Music And Dance (Dale Tremont)
- Outside Of That I Love You (Horace Hardwick and Madge Hardwick)
- Finale (Dale Tremont/Jerry Travers/ Madge Hardwick/ Horace Hardwick/Company)
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