Jo Turbitt enjoys most of the West End-bound musical but misses the film version's male lead.
I thought the fact that Fred Astaire is one of my heroes would either enhance or flatten my enjoyment of Top Hat. Oddly, I left feeling somewhere in between-ish.
It's a good production for what it is; not a brilliant astounding West End worthy show, but a good show nonetheless. It's sweet and has lovely singing, nice dancing, funny minor supporting characters and tap dancing. It's slick, well-rehearsed and runs from scene to scene like a well-edited movie. Bill Deamer's choreography was lovely and in many ways paid homage to the work of Hermes Pan and Busby Berkley in the musical numbers. The direction by Matthew White had hints and whispers of music hall, 1930's Hollywood innocence and pace. The comic roles of Bates and Beddini were superb, very nearly stealing the evening.
Like I said, a good show....just quite unsatisfying for an Astaire film brought to the stage. Some might say, ‘How can you compare the two?’ Well, quite easily: if the show was a production in its own right with very few similarities to the RKO classic, then that's a worthy comment. Due to the vast amount of similarities, it's very hard to see the two as separate entities.
The big numbers involving all the dancers beat the solos hands down. The ballroom numbers when Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen dance together are lovely and elegant, however overall there is a bit of magic, pizzazz and "Astaire and Rogers" flair missing. The score is excellent; Irving Berlin was a genius, and it's a joy to hear his music played with such elegant jazziness. The choreography of the bigger numbers, as previously mentioned, blew the tap solos by Chambers out of the water. While he undoubtedly has talented feet, the beats were muddy, out of time and scuffy in his solos. This may have been a technical noise issue, but it ruined the magic of it. He came to remind me more of Nathan Lane in the film version of Love's Labour's Lost than of the loveable funny male lead of Jerry Travers. Summer Strallen portrays Dale Tremont with spot-on elegant sarcasm. Dancing the role with gusto, she strengthens the leading partnership quite a lot. Chambers is slightly stiff at times, not hitting his lines…
Wait, do I sound like Len Goodman? The fans of Strictly Come Dancing will love this and find joy in every moment, and my grandmother would have adored it. While I enjoy a bit of Strictly, I found myself yearning after Fred and Ginger, especially Fred's feet.
Top Hat performs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until November 26 before continuing its UK tour.