The glamour and elegance of the Hollywood musical came to the Wolverhampton Grand last night, for the opening of the award-winning musical delight that is Top Hat. The classic songs of Irving Berlin and the sheer romance and screwball comedy of the show had the audience totally enthralled from start to finish, with the spirit of Fred and Ginger most definitely lingering in the air.
Top Hat is one of the most beloved musicals of the 1930s, it was certainly the crowing moment of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers partnership. It is one of the strange paradoxes of the 1930s that whilst the world was going through the great depression, with many living in poverty and hardship, the movies got bigger, more extravagant and filled with evermore glamour, glitz and glitter. Escapism was the key, and you can’t get any more escapist than Top Hat.
The story is the classic tale of mistaken identity that thwarts a promising romance. Broadway star Jerry Travers arrives in London for a triumphant West End debut. Whilst staying at a stunning Art Deco hotel (surely The Savoy, complete with the most amazing Art Deco sets) he meets the beautiful Dale Tremont, a woman who seems immune to his immense charm. Jerry wins her over, during a dreamily romantic sequence in the rain, but then loses her again when she mistakenly believes him to be a married man. Jerry then make a trip to Venice to get the girl of his dreams. All sorts of madcap adventures ensue before the inevitable happy ending.
In the role of Jerry, Alan Burkitt is absolutely perfect. Showing immense charisma, he makes Jerry immensely likeable, but is also suave and sophisticated. His tap dancing is admirable, you cannot help but compare him to Fred in the same role, but Alan Birkett compares favourably – he is lithe, energetic and supremely elegant, a perfect leading man.
The Ginger Rogers role is played by Charlotte Gooch and she is simply stunning. A gorgeous presence, Charlotte has the acid wit of Dale down to a tee, and can yet be vulnerable too, particularly during the beautiful ‘Better luck next time’. Her statuesque physique makes her more than a match for Jerry, and she is grace personified in the exquisite costumes that she wears throughout, particularly the famous white feathers of ‘cheek to cheek’.
The supporting cast is equally wonderful. Clive Hayward, as Horace Hardwick, has many of the best one liners, whilst his wife Madge (played by Rebecca Thornhill) brings to mind the wit and style of Katherine Hepburn. I loved Bates (John Conroy), the faithful valet who is hilarious in a series of different disguises (I won’t spoil the story by revealing why.) Another hilarious turn is Sebastien Torkia as the cartoon Italian designer Alberto Beddini. His mangled English is a joy to behold.
Of course, the story is only a small part of Top Hat. Those classic songs, from ‘Puttin on the Ritz’, ‘Let’s face the music and Dance’, and the exquisite ‘Cheek to Cheek’ all sound as good as ever, a testament to the genius of Irving Berlin. The choreography by Bill Deamer is perfectly balanced, the energetic tap dancing contrasting superbly with the romance of the American Smooth styles. The sets were truly astounding, the Grand stage was transformed into an Art Deco paradise hotel, and then the Venice Lido. The set changes were seamless, and, apart from a slight hitch when the stage doors failed to open properly, they were also flawless. And the costumes were exquisite, Jon Morrell harnessing all that was stunning about 1930s style, creating incredible look after incredible look (oh for an hour in Dale’s wardrobe.)
Top Hat is a night of glamour, romance and sheer escapism. Don’t miss it.
Top Hat is at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 1st November, click here for ticket information.