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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Top Hat
Aldwych Theatre   Summer 2012 - Autumn 2013

This stage version of the 1935 Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers movie is surprisingly charming, delightful and thoroughly entertaining.

I say surprisingly only because the temptation must have been there to get away with a pale imitation or, even worse, an unimaginative by-the-numbers carbon copy like the current Singin' In The Rain. But adaptors Matthew White and Howard Jacobs, director White and choreographer Bill Deamer have re-imagined the film into a fresh theatrical form, while paying full respect to the original. 

This is the one (as if the plot mattered) in which Ginger is mad at Fred for keeping her awake by dancing in the room above her and later because she thinks he's married. 

More importantly, this is the one with 'I'm Putting On My Top Hat', 'Isn't This A Lovely Day To Be Caught In The Rain', 'The Piccolino' and 'Cheek To Cheek'  to which the stage version adds several more songs from the Irving Berlin treasure chest, most notably 'Let's Face The Music And Dance'. 

The sets and costumes are lovely, the production numbers exciting 'Top Hat' is a reminder that one of the glories of musical theatre is a stage full of people tapdancing and the supporting cast first-rate. 

But all that really matters is the leads, the chemistry between them, and their dancing together. And they are great.

It can be no surprise that Summer Strallen (The Boy Friend, The Drowsy Chaperone) can sing, dance and be sexy (and any combination of the above), but the real revelation is Tom Chambers, best known as a TV actor, whose singing is a bit nasal but who dances up a storm, whether it be solo tap, leading the ensemble or partnering Strallen. 

The single thing that made the Astaire-Rogers films wonderful was that the couple really made love in dance, and here the choreographer and stars have caught that same magic. 

As in the film, Strallen begins 'Isn't It A Lovely Day' annoyed with Chambers, but his dancing is so infectious that she can't help joining in, and you watch her falling in love as they are so obviously (amd literally) in step with each other. Again in 'Cheek To Cheek' we are captivated by the exquisite drama of a man wooing and a woman being won through dance. 

Bill Deamer quotes the original choreography by Astaire and Hermes Pan (and even brings in the dancing hat rack from Royal Wedding) while freshening it and fitting it to the talents of his stars, as when Strallen gets to be comically sexy in the interpolated 'Wild About You'. (Several of the new numbers are given to Strallen, to balance out what was a Fred-dominated score.) 

In the Edward Everett Horton role of the married friend Strallen's character confuses Chambers' with, Martin Ball gives an excellent imitation of Edward Everett Horton. Vivien Parry is underused as his wife, though the pair do get one of the best new numbers, the I-hate-you love song 'Outside Of That'. Ricardo Afonso is funny as a mad Latin lover, and Stephen Boswell scene-stealingly droll as a butler. 

This is what a musical is supposed to be great score, great cast, and put together with love for the material and respect for the audience.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Top Hat - Aldwych Theatre 2012    


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