Continuing the current trend for stage adaptations of iconic movies, Top Hat pairs Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from their iconic 1935 RKO movie of the same name. It's a wonderful rendition of a classic, but can never really step out of the original's shadow.
The plot here is largely fluff to get the leads from one of Irving Berlin's songs to the next, but there is a cute romanticism to this rather traditional comedy of errors - Chambers is Jerry Travers, a Broadway star, who falls head over heels in love with Dale Tramont (Summer Strallen), but a protracted case of mistaken identity means that love is eluded for a good couple of hours (and plenty of song and dance numbers) and the dragging in of the Hardwicks, Horace (Martin Ball) and Madge (Vivien Parry), as well as Tramont's paramour Beddini (Ricardo Afonso) - but, as is to be expected, it all works out in the end.
Top Hat, however, isn't remembered for its plot: this was Astaire and Rogers at their finest, singing and dancing their way through a huge number of Irving Berlin's famous musical numbers (including "Puttin' On the Ritz", "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek", to name but a few). It's also featured one of RKO's classic monumental art nouveau sets, and this production has made a strong effort to recreate both sets and song and dance numbers on stage.
The result is varied. I had the bad luck of seeing Strallen's understudy, and I'm afraid to say she didn't quite have the pizzazz or interplay with Chambers that this piece definitely needed - and the singing and dancing wasn't all it could have been either. The production looks glorious - they've made a definite nod in RKO's direction with the beautiful sets - but it doesn't capture the original's wide, expansive studio sets; it's rare for a show to feel hemmed in in a West End venue, but they managed here! It's all performed well, especially the big group numbers (and it's an impressive chorus line), but it just doesn't have the scope or the interplay of the original.
It's inevitable that a West End version of an iconic film will be compared to it - and it's fair to say that this is a good version, with much of the tone and style of the original kept intact, but, oddly enough, it's a musical that doesn't suit the stage: RKO could afford hugely expansive sets and the very best dancers at the time, whereas this feels restricted and Chambers is perfectly decent (a better dancer than an actor, but we already knew that), and I can only imagine how good Strallen may or may not be. It's nice seeing some of the classic dances performed live, but then there's the added problem of the Aldwych's low stage - in the stalls, I couldn't see the performers' feet, which was a bit disconcerting for a dance show!
I'd recommend watching the film on a big TV over the West End show, but I don't think I saw it at its best - after all, it lives and dies with its central duo, and I haven't seen them!
Name of Show: Top Hat
Book: Matthew White and Howard Jacques
Music and Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Premiered: 16 August 2011 (Milton Keynes Theatre)
This Production Opened: 9 May 2012
Tweet: Astaire and Roger's iconic musical film is recreated on stage starring Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen - not as good as original.
Synopsis: Jerry Travers, Broadway star, travels to London to perform in his friend Horace Hardwick's musical revue, and in doing so meets and falls in love with Dale Tremont. He courts her, but confusion abounds when Jerry is identified as Horace and Dale assumes that 'Horace' is planning to cheat on his wife, her friend Madge Hardwick. Jerry and Dale chase each other through London and Venice until all is resolved with a happy ending for all.
- Travers and Tremont's (Astaire and Rogers') dance of courtship during "Cheek to Cheek"
- Travers' (Astaire's) celebrated tap dance during "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails".
Why See It: This reproduction of the classic RKO movie is a nostalgia-laden song and dance show, with plenty of famous images and moments from the classic movie recreated on stage. It's all very twee and lovely, the dancing's outstanding (especially the group numbers), and it's a pleasant, enjoyable evening out.
Caveat: It never quite surpasses the original, if anything even ending up a little overshadowed - Chambers is perfectly decent, and we haven't seen it with Strallen (and the understudy's not brilliant).
- Top Hat is possibly Astaire and Rogers' most famous joint project, earning the highest box office receipts and often lauded as their best joint dance performance.
- Ginger Rogers' nickname "Feathers" originated on this film - she insisted on wearing a feathered dress during "Cheek to Cheek", which started shedding to the point where Astair quipped: "She looked like a chicken being attacked by a coyote."
Top Hat, WINNER of 3 Laurence Olivier awards including Best New Musical, and WINNER of the Evening Standard Best Night Out award, brings the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age and the glorious, tap-dancing magic of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the West End in one of the greatest dance musicals of all time. Featuring Irving Berlin’s greatest hits including Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie & Tails, Let’s Face the Music & Dance and Puttin’ on the Ritz, this romantic musical comedy tells the story of Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society model Dale Tremont. Tony and Olivier award nominated Gavin Lee and Broadway leading lady Kristen Beth Williams star as Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont.
Aldwych Theatre49 Aldwych
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2B 4DF
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes
Tom Chambers (Jerry Travers) and Summer Strallen (Dale Tremont) © Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
Tom Chambers (Jerry Travers) and the Male Ensemble © Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
Top Hat Ensemble © Brinkhoff and Mogenburg