★★★★ | | Top Hat, Sheffield Theatres and National Tour
Based on the RKO Pictures musical of the same name, the story is one familiar to the genre – a will they / won’t they love story filled with mistaken identity, rekindled romance and gentle comedy. Jerry Travers (played by Alan Burkitt) is a huge Broadway star who jets to London to star in his first West End show, produced by his friend, Horace Hardwick. He meets and falls for Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch), but she mistakes him for Horace, the husband of her friend, Madge Hardwick. Thinking that he is cheating on his wife, Dale gives Jerry the cold shoulder despite having fallen head over heels with him. Dale goes to visit Madge in Venice, but will the arrival of Jerry and Horace, who are unaware of her confusion, lead to true love?
I can’t resist a good, old-fashioned, large-scale musical; and Top Hat did not disappoint. The songs by Irving Berlin were irresistible and the large ensemble based production numbers had me tapping my feet and grinning from ear to ear. Highlights were the opening number; Puttin’ on the Ritz, which kicked things off nicely, the Act One closing tap dancing spectacular, Top Hat, White Tie and Tales, and the sweeping renditions of Cheek to Cheek and Let’s Face The Music and Dance, all of which were performed brilliantly.
Birkett, as Jerry Travers, effortlessly tapped, glided and leapt his way through the dance routines, wholly impressing with every step. Gooch, as Dale Tremont, was warm, likeable, glamourous and very well cast as the 1930’s trendsetter. John Conroy gained most laughs as Bates, the long-suffering butler, and the look, feel and vocal performances of the cast as a whole accurately captured the atmosphere of the 1930’s.
The production values were incredibly high and some of the best I have seen in a touring musical for some time. Top Hat is a show which is grand in scale, and has none of the feeling of being stripped back or watered down that can often accompany West End touring productions. The detailed art deco sets were beautifully constructed and visually grandiose, reflecting the decadence of the story’s 1930’s setting. The costumes were simply stunning and elegant, both in their design and in their sheer volume; and the show’s direction was very impressive, utilising screens to enable multiple set changes and to focus the audience’s attention forming a production which was slick, polished and professional overall.
The only flaw I found was the slightly uneven pace between the two acts. The first act flew by, with a barrage of show-stopping numbers, whereas the second act was much more narrative based and more spaced out musical numbers.
Despite reaching the grand old age of 80 this year, Top Hat is certainly up there for musical lovers and has lost none of its whimsical charm for such an old lady. If you enjoy shows like High Society, Anything Goes or any of those old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films, then Top Hat is a quality production of a top-notch tap spectacular.
Top Hat is playing at Sheffield Theatres until 7th March 2015 (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) before continuing on its national tour through to the end of July 2015 (www.tophatonstage.com/ )
Tue 24 Feb – Sat 7 Mar
SHEFFIELD Lyceum Theatre
Tue 10 – Sat 21 Mar
Tue 31 Mar – Sat 11 Apr
NORWICH Theatre Royal
Tue 14 – Sat 25 Apr
CANTERBURY The Marlowe Theatre
Tue 28 Apr – Sat 9 May
PLYMOUTH Theatre Royal Plymouth
Tue 12 – Sat 23 May
Wed 27 May – Sat 6 Jun
DUBLIN Bord Gais Theatre
Tue 16 – Sun 21 Jun
BROMLEY Churchill Theatre
Wed 24 Jun – Sat 4 Jul
SUNDERLAND Empire Theatre
Tue 7 – Sat 18 Jul
WOKING New Victoria Theatre
Tue 21 – Sat 25 Jul
EASTBOURNE Congress Theatre
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.