World stage premieres are normally the preserve of the West End but Milton Keynes Theatre can boast that musical extravaganza Top Hat is making its global debut as a new stage show here in the new city this month.
Top Hat is a 1935 screwball comedy musical film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers which has been lovingly crafted for the stage, encompassing the original classic songs by Irving Berlin and a further ten from the Berlin back catalogue.
Holby City and Strictly Come Dancing star Tom Chambers (pictured, with me, below) and experienced musical theatre performer Summer Strallen take the title roles of Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont – portrayed by Astaire and Rogers in the movie.
Top Hat is widely regarded as one of the greatest dance musicals of all time and the most successful of the nine films Astaire and Rogers collaborated on. The narrative follows Jerry Travers – a famous American tap dancer – as he leaves his doting co-stars to travel to London to appear in his first West End show.
Enthusiastically breaking into spontaneous tap dance routines on the evening of his arrival, Jerry finds himself disturbing a fellow guest – the glamorous Dale Tremont – in the Belgravia Hotel. Apologising for his terrible “affliction” Jerry does his best to win her over as he realises Dale is the girl of his dreams.
The musical comedy sees Jerry following Dale across Europe in an attempt to capture her heart, with plenty of singing, dancing and hilarity along the way.
Tom Chambers delivered a near-perfect American accent and a singing voice that brought the well-known melodies to life. Even a slight technical fault with his microphone could not undermine his clear vocals, while his suited and booted appearance was a far cry from his scrubs on the hospital ward in Holby.
Accompanied onstage by Martin Ball playing impresario Horace Hardwick, Chambers displayed the dance ability that saw him waltz off with the champions trophy on Strictly. His comic timing kept the audience enchanted.
In an interview in May, Tom told to me how much the role meant to him. He emphasised that he was anxious to do Astaire proud. After his polished performance, I think Tom has done enough to wear his top hat with pride.
Summer Strallen comes from a musical theatre family. The apple has certainly not fallen far from the tree as her performance was exquisitely executed. Even a slight slip during the final number did not distract from her easy elegance onstage.
The chemistry between Chambers and Strallen was fluid and believable. Astaire and Rogers are celebrated for their partnership in the movie so it was no mean feat for two previously unacquainted leads to follow in their footsteps.
In May, Summer described the relationship between herself and Tom Chamber as “almost brother and sister like”. She enthusiastically told me how well the two of them get along. Happily, this ease with each other has seamlessly translated to the stage.
Ricardo Afonso and Stephen Boswell provided much amusement as Alberto Beddini (an effervescent Italian dressmaker and potential aficionado for Dale) and Bates (Horace’s hilarious valet).
Movie classics ‘Cheek To Cheek‘; ‘Isn’t It A Lovely Day To Be Caught In The Rain’ and ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’ stood out among the musical numbers. But so did the additional interpolated routines for ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’; ‘I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket’ and ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.
The Ensemble performers lit up the stage with a variety of parts and a range of dance styles. Every artist delivered an impeccably accomplished performance. Stunning scenery and lavish costumes combine with the obvious talents of the cast to make this production a must-see.
After a two-week stint at Milton Keynes Theatre, the Top Hat company will embark on a seventeen-week UK tour prior to an anticipated West End transfer in Spring 2012. I recommend booking your tickets now.
Final verdict? Top Hat is top entertainment!
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.