As I may have mentioned once or twice before, when it comes to dancing I have two left feet. At least. Maybe three. So it’s not really surprising that when I see a show like last night’s spectacular production of Top Hat at the Churchill Theatre, it leaves me literally open-mouthed in awe.
Not only is Top Hat a non-stop whirlwind of joyful energy, it also showcases some serious dancing talent. With two incredible leads in Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch, a flawless supporting cast and the timeless music of Irving Berlin, this is a show not to be missed.
And as if all that weren’t enough, it’s also a great story, bound to appeal to any fans of the classic romantic comedy. Broadway star and ladies’ man Jerry Travers arrives in London and falls instantly for the beautiful Dale Tremont. But, inevitably, there’s a misunderstanding and all seems lost… Hilarious chaos ensues, helped along by a hysterical Italian (Sebastien Torkia) and a married couple who love to hate each other (Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill). And I have to give a special mention to John Conroy, who gets some of the biggest laughs as master of disguise, Bates.
While the cast are busy setting the stage alight, Top Hat also boasts one of the most flexible sets (designed by Hildegard Bechtler), and hardest working crews, I think I’ve ever seen. I can only imagine how many people are running around behind the scenes to ensure that each time the partition opens, the transformed set is in place and ready to go. From hotel lobby to a bandstand in the park, from a bar in Venice to the bridal suite – the changes are lightning fast but always spot on.
Irving Berlin’s classic score is packed full of much-loved tunes: Puttin’ on the Ritz, Cheek to Cheek, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and the irresistible Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, which I’m still humming to myself today. These are songs that everyone knows, or has at least heard, and you can’t help but tap your foot and wish you were up there joining in. (Although I don’t think anyone would thank me if I tried.)
And so back to the dancing, which is the real star of the show. There are intricate tap routines, with most of the company on stage performing in perfect synchronicity, and sweeping, romantic duets so beautiful you can’t help but get caught up in the moment. After all, who wouldn’t want to be whirled around the floor in the arms of a handsome young man? Bill Dearing’s choreography perfectly captures the spirit and glamour of the 1930s and, much like any time I watch Strictly Come Dancing, I was jealous of all the gorgeous dresses, especially Dale’s; Jon Morrell’s costume design is yet another highlight of the production.
One of the reasons I love musicals so much is that they provide an escape, to a world where, whatever’s happening and however bad things are, everything can – usually – be put right with a song and dance (granted, singing didn’t help Miss Saigon very much, but you know what I mean). And that makes Top Hat pretty much the ultimate musical: a lavish spectacle that sweeps you off your feet and takes you on a glorious feel-good ride, even if only for one evening.
It’s even there in the lyrics: ‘There may be trouble ahead…’ You know the rest, right?
Top Hat is at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, until Sunday 21st June. To book, visit the website or call 0844 871 7636.