On a blustery, drizzly, depressing May evening, it is a treat to escape into Top Hat’s world of glamour and opulence.
Here every hotel worker is a trained dancer primed to spring gracefully into a pirouette at any moment. Here wearing a butterfly bow tie instead of a square one is considered ‘dress down’. Here, from the moment the overture warms the auditorium, we know exactly what we will get from the next two and a half hours. We can sit back, relax and escape.
Top Hat’s tale is a simple one of love and confused identities, as Broadway star Jerry Travers tries to win the heart of beautiful socialite Dale Tremont. When Dale mistakenly believes he is the husband of her close friend, the courting becomes trickier than tying a bow tie while wearing boxing gloves.
Leading man and Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers has been waiting for this type of song and dance role for years. He may not be Fred Astaire – who is? – but he makes a charming, if a little cocky, Travers, for whom it is easy to root. Summer Strallen fits the role of a classic musical leading lady as well as she does the stunning period outfits drawn straight from the design mind of John Morrell.
While they provide the love interest, the supporting cast brings the laughs, with Martin Ball brilliantly beleaguered as husband to Vivian Parry’s Marge Hardwick, who brings a dry kick to proceedings like brandy to sweet champagne. Ricardo Afonso, as comedy Italian Alberto Beddini, is given licence to ham it up more than a butcher with a penchant for pig, and almost steals the show in the process.
Irving Berlin’s musical numbers – which include Puttin’ On The Ritz, Let’s Face The Music And Dance and Top Hat White Tie And Tails – are as toe-tappingly catchy as they ever were, proving a gloriously uplifting score for a host of memorable Bill Deamer-choreographed tap routines. While I don’t profess to being the biggest fan of 30s musicals, there is just something about the sound and movement of tap that rarely fails to raise a smile.
Smile I did, all the way through. I even laughed at the jokes that had passed their sell by date around 1953. We know all the punch lines – “There’s a fly in my gelato. What’s it doing there? Tobogganing” – but that is half the charm. Top Hat is as fluffy as a blow-dried chinchilla and as recognisable as the Sunday tea from your childhood that still makes you feel warm and cosy all these years later.