Theatre review: Top Hat
Based on the 1935 RKO film of the same name, this much anticipated ‘World Premiere’ production, directed by Matthew White, has finally hit the West End after an extensive UK tour. Tom Chambers, 2008 winner of BBC Strictly Come Dancing, and Summer Strallen spent countless hours and weeks under the guidance of choreographer Bill Deamer before successfully filling the shoes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Rebecca McWattie reviews.
Chambers reprises Fred Astaire’s role as Jerry Travers – an American tap dancer – and wows the audience by pulling off a knock ’em dead ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ routine, originally devised by Fred himself. Travers travels to London in order to star in producer Horace Hardwick’s new show and whilst practising a routine awakens Dale Tremont (Summer Strallen) on the floor below. Filled with comic and contrived misunderstandings, wooing, and romantic serenades – it isn’t Travers gifting Dale the entire contents of a florist shop, but his passion for dancing that literally sweeps her off her feet. How could any girl fail to gasp on seeing Tom dance Astaire’s most famous routine Top Hat, White Tie and Tails? Was the fellow ever an ‘amateur’ I wonder?
With music and lyrics by the unforgettable Irving Berlin, a cast of 31 and a 15 piece live orchestra this is one show guaranteed to make you go home with a spring in your step. The Hollywood/Art Deco inspired sets designed by Hildegard Bechtler include a hotel bedroom, private plane, and an English band stand, and are simply dazzling as are the flowing costumes and blistering dance routines. It doesn’t matter that the plot is as thin as Melba toast – the romance and Wooster-like wit is amusing enough to hold the attention throughout. Memorable one-liners include ‘last week I went to a funeral and I caught a bouquet’ and ‘a man is incomplete until he’s married – after that he’s finished!’
Standout performances include Martin Ball as Horace Hardwick, hilarious Ricardo Afonso as Tom’s love rival Alberto Beddini and Stephen Boswell as Horace Hardwick’s butler Bates. Tom Chambers may not have the best voice in the world, but he makes up for it in sheer enthusiasm which is more than can be said for the chemistry he has with Summer Strallen – that unique yet indescribable spark of magic which seems to elude them. Every other element of this production is technically superior to rival musical ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and looks certain to captivate the West End for many weeks to come. Dare I say it?….Hats off!
Aldwych Theatre, London, WC2B 4DF