Top Hat Festival Theatre

Hooray for Hollywood! That’s two shows I’ve seen in as many weeks featuring the wonderful music of Irving Berlin, the first one being Puttin’ on the Ritz recently at the Playhouse. It’s the same era and the same music but oh what a huge difference in quality of production between the two. Top Hat is on a UK tour “direct from the West End” but unlike other similarly described productions, it has actually brought the full works on tour and boy does it show. For starters, there is a live orchestra and conductor and what a contrast that is with the tinny, blaring soundtrack used in Puttin’ on the Ritz. The mellifluous sounds of real live instruments are a perfect accompaniment to such glorious songs as Dancing Cheek to Cheek, Isn’t this a Lovely Day, Let’s Face the Music and of course, Top Hat itself. I’m in Heaven from the opening bars to use another of Mr Berlin’s famous songs from the show.

Do you remember the original 1935 film version with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers? It’s a hard act to follow but Alan Burkitt as Jerry Travers and Charlotte Gooch as Dale Tremont certainly make a fine job of it. Burkitt has just the right amount of swaggering confidence and charm as well as, of course, being an excellent singer and dancer. Gooch looks absolutely stunning in her fabulous, floaty satin and ostrich feather costumes and the partnership between the two is perfect. One of the big advantages of the stage show over the film is that it is in glorious technicolor rather than black and white and the set and costume designers haven’t stinted in this department. The art deco splendour of the Belgravia Hotel, the colourful characters of the Lido in Venice and the spectacular routines from the Broadway stage are all lovingly recreated.

Of course, the storyline and comedy is a bit dated now – there are some dodgy non pc views on love and marriage and the poor Italians, as always, suffer from the worst stereotyping and caricature. Having said that, it is all played for laughs and no one should be taking it too seriously so just relax and take yourself back in time to a totally different era. The music and the dancing are the thing and you’ll be humming those tunes and tapping your toes for days and weeks to come.

I saw a previous version of this show a few years ago at the Playhouse starring Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers. If you are a Hollywood musical fan like me it is a show worth seeing more than once and if you haven’t seen it before then you are in for a treat.

Irene Brownlee