Top Hat the Musical originally came to London in mid-2012, and has become a firm favorite with theater goers – both fans of the original Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic, and newcomers to the story. The plot is simple, as all the best musicals are; the dance numbers are delightful; and the atmosphere, which recalls the 1930s, has been lucky enough to fit in with the mood of the moment. All in all, it’s been something of a success.
People lucky enough to get Top Hat the Musical tickets for its opening night (in May 2012) were the first to see the pairing of Tom Chambers and Sumer Strallen strutting their stuff as the show’s two main characters – Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont. Strallen plays Tremont with just the right amount of sass – while Chambers’ super-enthusiastic, slightly bewildered hoofer Travers is perfectly done.
The plot hinges, like many of the best comedies, on a single element of mistaken identity. Dale Tremont, a beautiful English model, believes that Jerry Travers – the American dancer who’s come over to the UK to play a role in a stage show in London – is married to her best friend: which of course he isn’t. Travers’ heartfelt pursuit of Tremont is thus beset on all sides by the mishaps and outright misunderstandings – all set to a medley of Irving Berlin’s classic dance numbers.
The stage show benefits from the fact that the film (a 1935 production for RKO, widely regarded to be one of the best musicals ever made) was originally based on the script of a play. By returning to the play script and trimming off the fat, Top Hat the Musical ‘s current adapters (Howard Jacques and Matthew White) have managed to get the spirit of the film back onto the boards where it belongs.
There’s a massive market for nostalgia at the moment, something that happens a lot when economic circumstances are less than pleasant. Top Hat the Musical isn’t the only nostalgia vehicle currently making a splash on the West End stage – there’s the marvellous Singin in the Rain too; and when you think about it Cabaret, in a strange way, is kind of aimed at the same audience though with a darker tone.
As far as light-footed comedies go, you don’t get much more nimble on your pins than Top Hat the Musical – and that’s true of the dancing the audience is treated to as well as the non-stop gags. Ultimately, the shows works on its combination of rose tinted “Times past” spectacles and its careful rendering of favourite song and dance numbers – an audience that has seen the film is bowled amiably between legendary routines while an audience fresh to the story (such as it is) will be charmed by the performances and wowed by the tapping.
It’s nice to see tap being done on the stage again. It’s an art form that all but died out towards the end of the 20 century – so to see a new crop of young actors and actresses hoofing it with the best of them warms the cockles of the heart.