I maintain that the 1952 Gene Kelly-Debbie Reynolds film is a pinnacle of cinematic endeavour, so any stage production seeking to emulate this piece of perfection has an impossible task ahead. This large-scale touring production originating from Chichester Festival Theatre comes pretty close!
A spoof of the advent of ‘talking pictures’, this story of Hollywood glamour is funny, romantic and spectacular. This show doesn’t stint on the large production numbers. Andrew Wright’s exuberant choreography delivers period, verve and character.
Sam Lips makes quite a splash as leading man Don Lockwood, cocksure and on the right side of cheesy. A lovely crooner, Lips can also hoof it – the iconic title song which closes the somewhat lengthy first act is everything you want it to be. As Don’s love interest, the sunny, funny Kathy Selden, Charlotte Gooch is practically perfect, while Jenny Gayner is hugely entertaining as villainous diva Lina Lamont – you can’t bring yourself to hate her.
Stealing the show, though, is the indefatigable Ross McLaren as Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown. McLaren lights up the stage, combining terpsichorean talent with comedic flair. His Make Em Laugh brings the house down, and his double act with Lips delivers some of the funniest moments of the show. You can’t take your eyes off him.
Director Jonathan Church doesn’t miss a detail. The filmed excerpts are a delight, and there’s a light touch to the comedy across the board. The musical numbers are wonderful. Some standouts include All I Do Is Dream Of You, Good Morning, and the extended, luxuriant Broadway Melody sequence, where the production values go through the roof. Simon Higlett’s costumes bring a rainbow after the downpour.
The infectious score is played by a tight-knit orchestra with Grant Walsh at the helm, the music so evocative of that bygone age.
An absolute joy, a celebration of showbiz, and pure, unadulterated fun, the show’s message is to enjoy yourself whatever life chucks at you. Sing in that rain!
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 23rd October, 2014
Adapted from the old Fred Astaire film by Matthew White and Howard Jacques, this Top Hat is refreshingly upbeat. The material is presented at face value – there are no ‘knowing’ looks, or nods to today’s more cynical age. We are allowed to enjoy it for what it is. TImes have changed: smoking is no longer socially acceptable or seen as glamorous – but what remains the same is our love of a song-and-dance number expertly performed.
The story is paper-thin. Broadway star Jerry Travers (Alan Burkitt) comes to London to star in a revue. At his hotel he meets beautiful American Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch) and sets out to woo and win her over. She mistakes him for her best friend’s husband and complications arise, culminating in farcical misunderstandings in Venice…
It’s lightweight froth but hugely enjoyable. The script is peppered with corny one-liners – as familiar as the Irving Berlin songs – most of them delivered by Clive Hayward as Horace Hardwick. Broader comedy comes from Sebastien Torkia’s portrayal of hotheaded Italian dress designer Alberto Beddini and there is some amusing character work from John Conroy as Hardwick’s sarcastic valet Bates. Rebecca Thornhill is good value as the sardonic Mrs Hardwick
Supported by an excellent troupe, Burkitt and Gooch hoof around in a dazzling display of tap and high kicks. Burkitt is exceptional as the showbiz star who can’t keep still. His vocal stylings suit the 1930s numbers perfectly. One can imagine John Barrowman playing this role (he does, most of the time anyway!). Gooch is more than a match for Burkitt’s abilities. The show is worth the ticket price for the exquisite beauty of Cheek To Cheek alone.
It’s old-school spectacle. Hildegard Bechtler’s elegant set is a monument to Art Deco – there are a lot of scenes and there is humour and charm in the staging: the horse-drawn cab, for example, and the aeroplane arriving in Venice.
But it’s the dance numbers that hold us enthralled. There is something about a stage-full of people tap-dancing in synch that is spellbinding. Bill Deamer’s choreography goes all out to capture the style and brilliance of the classic film. Energy pours off the stage as the impressive cast and chorus delight us with this visit to another world, a better world of song and dance and happy endings. Just like in the Depression, we need quality escapism to take us out of these dark times of austerity. Top Hat is a toe-tapping tonic. It’s uplifting, unadulterated fun.