Review Round-up: Top marks for Top Hat?Date: 10 May 2012
It's time to put on your top hat and brush off your tails. Seventy-seven years after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers lit up Hollywood's silver screen with one of the most memorable dance musicals of all time, RKO Pictures' Top Hat comes to the West End's Aldwych Theatre.
Top Hat combines some of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits, including "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "Cheek to Cheek", with a celebration of 1930s ballroom and tap.
Tom Chambers (Holby City and Strictly Come Dancing winner) plays the irrepressible Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society model Dale Tremont, played by triple Olivier Award nominee Summer Strallen (Love Never Dies, The Sound of Music and The Drowsy Chaperone).
“It’s pointless trying to replicate the sheer style and effortless gaiety of the original … Instead, a perfectly enjoyable tourist class version evokes the movie instead of breathing the magic … Chambers … is a little prosaic and earth-bound … and we’re more overwhelmed by Strallen’s extraordinary high kicks and Ginger-like back bends than we are by any marked sexual chemistry between the couple; it’s less top hat and white tie than flat cap and muffler … The show’s microphoning is far too harsh and steel-edged, but the band under musical director Dan Jackson is terrific, Bill Deamer’s choreography witty and disciplined, and there’s a pleasing art deco line to both Hildegard Bechtler’s grey designs and Jon Morrell’s colourful costumes. There are strong second act ‘turns’ from Vivien Parry as the producer’s wife and Ricardo Afonso as a deluded Latin lover, Beddini ... A high old time is had by all, even if, with Beddini, we can also say, ‘I don’t like your altitude.’”
“The evening can be quickly summed up as ‘great songs, daft book’ … A silly story … But the piece survives on the imperishable Berlin songs and the charm of the performers … Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen here do a sterling job … Chambers is not only personable and light on his feet but makes it look as if he actively enjoys 'Puttin' On The Ritz' or gliding around 'Cheek to Cheek'. And Strallen has a similar graceful ease and attractiveness, and is seductively funny in a number 'Wild About You' … Matthew White's production also keeps the action moving, Hildegard Bechtler's sets have a pleasing art deco look to them, and Bill Deamer's choreography is at its inventive best in Berlin's catchy, cod-Venetian number 'The Piccolino' … It's all perfectly pleasant and one can never hear too often Berlin standards like 'Isn't This a Lovely Day To Be Caught in the Rain?' I just hope the future of the musical doesn't reside in endless revivals of Hollywood's golden oldies.”
“A frivolous, gently enjoyable exhibition of song and dance … The show is a bit slow hitting its stride. It doesn’t help that the plot’s essential premise is so weak … A stronger second half emphasizes the dreaminess and charm of this adaptation … Bill Deamer’s choreography is complex but well focused. A large cast and sizable orchestra perform with gusto, while Hildegard Bechtler’s lovely designs evoke the charms of the Thirties and the handsome geometry of Art Deco. The chemistry between Chambers and Strallen isn’t as rich as it could be, but Strallen is elegant and her voice soars. Although Chambers is a weaker singer, he’s energetic; his tap is polished and he’s a likeable presence throughout. The plot is thin and the jokes are often corny, with some of the exposition distinctly unexciting. Yet for the most part the execution is light and wholesome. There’s good support from Ricardo Afonso, Vivien Parry, Martin Ball and Stephen Boswell. This colourful and lavish spectacle will appeal to those seeking a dose of escapist nostalgia.”
Tom Chambers (Jerry Travers) & the male ensemble
“Chambers is a phenomenon, a buck-and-wing, brush-and-chug explosion of graceful energy … The tale itself … is a Wodehousian meringue of heavy-handed misunderstanding and corny wisecracks … But you don’t go to Top Hat expecting Ibsen-like moments, do you? Likeability, beloved songs and breathtaking dance are the expectation, and one dutifully fulfilled. Chambers’s voice is not tonally beautiful, but vigorous and expressive and Strallen sounds as lovely as she looks, with a sweet plaintive puzzlement. Vivien Parry is very funny indeed as a real Bronx toughie … Martin Ball splutters like a good comic Englishman as Horace the rich producer; and Stephen Boswell as the disguised valet Bates thoroughly overdoes it (there really is no other option). As for Alberto the absurd Italian, Ricardo Afonso is ideal casting. Being Portuguese, he can play a disgraceful comedy foreigner on the British stage with impunity, and strip, singing, to his sock-suspenders and baggy combinations to general roars of approval. And Hildegarde Bechtler’s set is a fine thing too: dreamily morphing from the Belgravia hotel to a Venice where, in modest 1920s swimwear, the chorus blast out ‘Come to the casino and dance with your bambino.’”
“It has comedy foreigners, sexism and a dumb-ass plot. Fortunately, this screwball musical comedy … also has a sublime score by Irving Berlin … The music is gorgeous: light as angel's wings, luscious as angel cake. Bill Deamer's choreography responds with twinkling delight - though this chorus needs much more rigorous drilling; there's some sloppiness here that would never pass muster on the Great White Way … Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen … give stylish performances, but there's not much sizzle between them. Strallen is sassy with endless legs and a strong, warm voice. Chambers' vocals are slightly adenoidal, his dancing often dazzling; his shining moment comes in a breathtaking routine not with Strallen, but with a hatstand. It has insufficient pizzazz, but this is a lovely production to look at, with exquisite costumes by Jon Morrell and Hildegard Bechtler's elegant set of sliding art deco panels. It's a glitzy chocolate box of a show; sweet, but unsatisfying."
- Rebecca Hussein