Top Hat is the musical stage show adaptation of the now classic 1935 RKO film starring Fred Astaire (Jerry Travers) and Ginger Rogers (Dale Tremont) and the original film was a musical "screwball comedy". Music is by Irving Berlin and some of the songs here such as "Top Hat" and "Cheek to Cheek" have become American classics.
The basic plot is very simple. Broadway star Jerry Travers comes to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardbeck. At his hotel, Jerry meets and falls in love with Dale Tremont. Dale "wears" clothes for Italian designer Alberto Bedinni (a rival for his affections for Dale). We also meet Horace Hardwick's wife Madge and his faithful valet Bates. Of course, as in any screwball comedy nothing is this simple, and very slight misunderstandings and mistaken identities lead to all sorts of problems and plot twists. Many of these little twists and turns are very subtle and going through them would spoil the surprises this show throws up for you a bit (maybe a lot). Instead, I am going to leave the plot at this brief outline and just concentrate on the music and dancing of tonight's show.
If you are going to try and reproduce a classic film musical on stage then you either do it properly, or not at all. This show does it properly. Top Hat the stage show is simply a wonderful production from producer Kenny Wax and director Matthew White. From the moment the orchestra start playing some of the classic tunes and the curtain rises to an amazing Art Deco set, you know that you are in for a very special show. Set designer Hildegard Bechtler has produced some outstanding visual sets here that just pull you right into the Art Deco oppulance of the inter-war years for the wealthy. The Festival Theatre has a very big stage, and every inch of it was used tonight in these sets (which came from the original London show). Lighting by Peter Mumford complements the sets perfectly. As soon as the first dancers arrive on stage, you notice that a lot of time and effort has gone into the costumes. Costume designer Jon Morrell has taken incredible care in reproducing period clothes (and there are a lot of them in this show). Jon Morrell is helped in this attention to detail by hair and wig designer Campbell Young.
Wonderful as the sets and costumes may be though, they would only be pretty backdrops if the cast were not great too. Everyone was on the top of their stage performing game tonight. All the lead characters - Alan Burkitt (Jerry Travers), Charlotte Gooch (Dale Tremont), Clive Hayward (Horace Hardwick), Rebecca Thornhill (Madge Hardwick), Sebastian Torkia (Alberto Beddini) and John Conroy (Bates) were outstanding and every one of them had that gentle comedic timing touch that a light comedy like this needs.
This is of course a musical with classic dance routines and this show pretty much rests on the shoulders of its two main stars - Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch. Both are vocally outstanding in their roles, but more importantly, the dance chemistry and comedic timing between them works perfectly. Both of them make their dancing look effortless. There are some simply wonderful tunes here too - as well as the aforementioned Top Hat and Cheek to Cheek, this show also includes (amongst others) Puttin' on The Ritz, Let's Face The Music And Dance and Wild About You.
All of the dancers in the show are on great form tonight too. These dancers have been choreographed to split second timing. Giving talented performers what they need to shine on stage is what this show does - great sets, lighting, costumes, wonderful tunes, great dance numbers and that great big Festival Theatre stage to present it all and perform on lets the cast give the audience a wonderful stage show experience. Many of tonight's audience had also gone to the trouble of dressing in period for the show too. Everything just worked in this show. If you have the time then go and see this show. If you do not have the time, then try and make it as big production shows of this quality and big budget do not come around too often.
Review by Tom King