Tag Archives: Top Hat

Top Drawer


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.


Old Hat


Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 5th September, 2011


This brand-new stage adaptation of the 1935 Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire film has quality running through it like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock.  Lavish, art deco sets (thirty scene changes!) sumptuous costume design, a large company on the stage and an equally large orchestra underneath it.  Money has been spent on this production to an extent rarely seen in a show that’s touring the provinces.


The plot, like something P G Wodehouse might have scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet, is paper-thin and the characters are a bit one-note – unlike the score.  Irving Berlin’s back catalogue has been raided to beef up the set list (there are only five songs in the original movie) and it plays like a “Best of” tribute show.


There is nothing overtly political about the show – other than its very existence.  In times of economic hardship, the masses seek out glamour and fluff for entertainment, as a means of temporary escape from the struggles and despondency of everyday life.  That Top Hat is donned again in this day and age, when belts are tight and the world is going to hell in a Tesco trolley is a true sign of the times.


But does it work?  It is joyously and unabashedly old-fashioned.  The script is riddled with jokes cornier than even I would post on Twitter.  The only note of cynicism is reserved for a running commentary on the estate of marriage.  Gradually, the show wins you over.  The second act, set in Venice, is far more fun than the first, as silliness and high camp are given full rein.   One learns to sit back and watch it un-ironically and accept it for what it is: an upmarket Christmas cracker, with groan-inducing humour and a bit of tinsel around your paper crown.



For me it was the songs, those glorious songs, that kept me hooked.  The two leads never quite manage to dazzle in the same way as Fred & Ginger, and how could they? But the melodies and the 1930s arrangements are indeed sublime. Irving Berlin may not have been as consistent a lyrical genius as Cole Porter, but he didn’t half churn out some classics. “Cheek To Cheek” is one of the best songs ever written, and its performance, suitably crooned and hoofed by Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen was for me the highlight of this glittering soufflé of a show.