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Top Hat (tour – Norwich)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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There’s a good Art Deco air to Matthew White and Howard Jacques’ stage adaptation of the classic Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire musical film Top Hat. Irving Berlin’s clever score and lyrics help, and so do the set (Hildegard Bechtler) and costume (Jon Morrell) designs. Down in the pit, a sizeable band under the baton of Dan Jackson also has the measure of the period’s style.

As Jerry Travers, the oh-so-slightly go-getting hero, Tom Chambers doesn’t put a foot wrong, effortlessly toeing whatever Bill Deamer’s choreography swirls at him. There are some nice production touches in White’s direction, especially in the dual-level hotel bedroom scenes and the large ensemble look well – all those bias-cut satins and Fortuné pleats – and fill out the myriad of small parts as Jerry pursues Dale Tremont while impresario Horace Hardwick and his wife Madge attack their own marital problems from different angles.

Morrell’s designs do rather let Summer Strallen as Dale down in two crucial scenes. One is that in London’s Hyde Park and the other is his take on Rogers’ iconic ostrich feather gown; it just doesn’t work and makes Strallen look tubby rather than glamourous. She dances and acts very prettily in spite of this. Vivien Parry’s wisecracking Madge is a real scene-stealer, as is Stephen Boswell’s Bates, the Hardwick butler, extremely funny as he puts himself into places and situations where – one feels – Jeeves would never venture.

Maetin Ball gets the audience on his side as philandering Horace, a man who one suspects would secretly be content with a far calmer mode of life than mounting shows (to say nothing of shwgirls) provides. The other main character is the Italian dress designer Alberto Beddini, of whom Ricardo Afonso provides the sort of over-the-top stage gigolo caricature which wins an audience’s affection, and keeps it.


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