There’s a recession on, and the West End has gone duly “safe”. So alongside the usual long-runners, you can see sure-fire hit musicals like Singin In The Rain, and aunt-pleasing farces like What The Butler Saw. Top Hat is the latest addition to this nostalgia fest: a vintage musical comedy to cheer everyone up while the economists panic.
Based on the hit 1930s film starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Top Hat is the tale of a dancer (Jerry Travers) falling in love with a girl (Dale Tremont), a case of mistaken identity, and… oh, actually, the plot’s as flimsy and fluffy as one of Dale’s couture dresses. It doesn’t really matter, as every scene is filled with another of Irving Berlin’s gorgeous musical hits: Cheek to Cheek, Isn’t This a Lovely Day, Puttin’ On The Ritz and the climactic first-act closer, Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.
The larger chorus numbers really are a spectacle: those tunes, plus the whole stage filled with grinning, tap-dancing talent, and the stunning Art Deco sets by Hildegard Bechtler create several can’t-help-but-beam-along moments for this tap fan. Even the hackneyed comedy (bitter wives, henpecked husbands, vain foreigners) has a certain charm and got us giggling.
Filling the Fred Astaire role as Jerry Travers, Tom Chambers (winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2008) is clearly having the time of his life. His singing voice is slightly lacking, which is a shame, but he’s paired with Summer Strallen as Dale, who sings and dances wonderfully. Almost too perfectly: despite a lovely little routine where they tap dance their way through the surprises and hidden-and-given emotions of falling in love, the all-important amorous alchemy between the two leads is elusive for the rest of the show. Strallen’s perfect performance comes across as slightly cold; Chambers looks most comfortable dancing alone; tellingly, his breath-taking (self-choreographed) hat stand routine is one of the highlights of the night.
Despite these niggles, you’d have to be a pretty hard-hearted to fail to be charmed by this show. It’s pure, fun, cheery escapist entertainment. (And made us yearn for a pretty pair of tap shoes…)
Top Hat is currently booking at the Aldych Theatre, 49 Aldwych, London, WC2 until January next year. Visit tophatonstage.com to find out more. If you going, be warned: on the night we went, some audience members attended, shall we say, suitably attired. We felt rather underdressed in jeans and tatty white converse. Londonist saw Top Hat on a press ticket supplied by Premier PR.