Top Hat: Review Roundup

Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen

The first stage adaptation of the 1935 film Top Hat opened last night in the West End. The reviews have been mixed but generally positive. The creative team is Matthew White and Howard Jacques (book), Irving Berlin (lyrics and music), Matthew White (direction), Bill Deamer (choreography), Hildegard Bechtler (sets), Jon Morrell (costumes), Peter Mumford (lights), Gareth Owen (sound), Chris Walker (orchestrations). The cast includes Tom Chambers (Jerry Travers), Summer Strallen (Dale Tremont), Martin Ball (Horace Hardwick), Vivien Parry (Madge Hardwick), Ricardo Afonso (Alberto Beddini), and Stephen Boswell (Bates).

Michael Billington (Guardian): The evening can be quickly summed up as “great songs, daft book”; and one simply waits patiently for the next Irving Berlin number or elegant dance routine to come along which, happily, they do with reasonable frequency. … The great strength of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was that his aristocratic lightness found a perfect foil in her robust earthiness. And, even if you can’t match the original, Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen here do a sterling job. … I just hope the future of the musical doesn’t reside in endless revivals of Hollywood’s golden oldies and that one day we shall encounter again a new musical based on an original idea. Gilt-edged escapism is all very well in its way but it doesn’t take the genre any further forwards.

Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage): There are only five Irving Berlin songs in the 1935 art deco movie Top Hat, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, so in expanding the show without altering the story line, and adding ten more Berlin numbers, director Matthew White runs the risk of back catalogue cheesiness. He mostly, and cleverly, avoids this by good placement … and by allowing Summer Strallen’s gorgeous Dale Tremont a more hot-and-cold musical repertoire than Ginger’s. … It’s pointless trying to replicate the sheer style and effortless gaiety of the original, even if you could. Instead, a perfectly enjoyable tourist class version evokes the movie instead of breathing the magic.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard): Tom Chambers … gets to show off his deft footwork alongside Summer Strallen in 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. … 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. … This colourful and lavish spectacle will appeal to those seeking a dose of escapist nostalgia.

Charles Spencer (Telegraph): The first thing to be said is that this is a classy and enjoyable evening … rather than a truly great one. Despite the fantastic Irving Berlin score, which includes all the numbers from the original film plus a host of his other titles, including the hauntingly ominous “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” something is lacking. And that something is combustible stage chemistry. … The two leads go through the motions together, but the required fire between them never blazes. It’s true that Astaire and Rogers could seem pretty chaste, too, but there was a palpable sense of mischief and intimacy between the Hollywood stars that this pair lacks. … It’s an engaging evening, but one that just fails to scale the dizzy heights of showbiz heaven.

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