REVIEWED: Chambers and Strallen shine in Top Hat

THE reaction of the packed Milton Keynes Theatre audience said it all - Top Hat is all set to become a West End smash!

Seventy-six years after Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced their way across the silver screen and into the hearts of 1930s cinema-goers, the comedy musical Top Hat has been revived for the stage, writes Alan Wooding.

And with 2008 Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen who replaced Connie Fisher as Marie in The Sound of Music in the lead roles, it has played to packed houses following its World premiere in Milton Keynes on Tuesday, August 16.

With music and lyrics by the legendary composer Irving Berlin, the original

1935 film was nominated for four Academy awards while Astaire and Rogers were regarded as Hollywood royalty.

The new show has stuck to the original score with five classics like ‘Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Isn’t it a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain’ and, of course, ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’.

But Top Hat’s direction team of Matthew White, choreographer Bill Deamer and producer Kenny Wax decided to add several others popular numbers from the Berlin catalogue including; ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’, ‘I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket’ and the sexist, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.

The storyline itself is one of mistaken identity. Jerry Travers (Chambers) is an American song and dance man who gets a call from British stage producer Horace Hardwick (Martin Ball, Thenardier in Les Miserables) so he travels from the USA by cruise liner to London to appear in one of Hardwick’s variety shows.

However as Jerry demonstrates his new tap dance routine late one night in Horace’s hotel room, it annoys Dale Tremont (Strallen) who is trying to sleep in the room directly below. And after she goes upstairs to complain, the two are immediately attracted... but complications arise when Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace!

There’s plenty of face slapping, accusations of infidelity, lots of tap and ballroom dance sequences set in hotel lobbies, a refined gentlemen’s club and inside a series of luxurious suites.

The second act in this three hour show (including interval) centres in and around Venice where Jerry, Horace the lovely Dale meet up with Horace’s gold-digging wife Madge Hardwick (Vivien Parry, Mamma Mia).

In the Italian resort more mayhem ensues with plenty of comings and goings and more ins and outs of hotel rooms it’s all more akin to a Brian Rix Whitehall farce than a light-hearted musical.

Following a sham marriage to Italian suitor Alberto Beddini (Ricardo Afonso) after she thinks she’s missed the boat with Jerry, Bates (Stephen Boswell), Horace Hardwick’s faithful valet, reveals that he’d simply reversed his white collar and that he wasn’t a real priest at the wedding ceremony. And that means the ‘marriage’ is instantly forgotten and everyone gets their girl.

Chambers, a well-known face on television having spent three years as a medic on Holby City and latterly as a school head in Waterloo Road, was an accomplished tap dancer long before his days on ‘Strictly’ and was superb in the lead role.

His melodic voice was a surprise to many, but not so his co-star Strallen who possesses one of typical power and of theatrical quality.

Top Hat’s song and dance routines were slick and cleverly arranged while the

31 cast members remained in perfect harmony throughout, especially in the many tap routines and those memorable nostalgic choruses.

Top Hat is set to tour the provinces until December before it opens in the West End in early 2012 and, following its two week run in Milton Keynes it closes tomorrow (Saturday, August 27), you can catch up with it at any of the following theatres:

Birmingham Hippodrome (August 30 to September 10; Southampton Mayflower (September 13-24); Salford Lowry (September 26-October 9); Plymouth Theatre Royal (October 10-23); Theatre Royal Norwich (October 24-November 6); Canterbury Marlowe (November 7-20); Edinburgh Playhouse (November 21-27 and the Leeds Grand between November 28 and December 10.