Last weekend the family and I took a day trip to Oxford, where we had matinee tickets to see Top Hat at the New Theatre.
We chose the afternoon performance so we could have a leisurely lunch and browse around town (they have a MAC counter, enough said?) I’ve seen a few shows in Oxford now and they are always so professional, a real joy to watch and will rival any West End performance.
As a big theatre lover I couldn’t wait to sit in my seat and wait for the show to start. I hadn’t seen the famous film, which stars screen icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen a few clips on YouTube and I knew it featured one of my all time favourite tunes ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz‘ (it’s actually become my kitchen dance at home, what a sight it is to behold….)
We joined the many other theatre-goers who were queuing and picked up a programme and confectionery en route, before making our way to our seats. Boasting an 1800 capacity and beautiful art deco features, this theatre dates back almost 180 years to it’s original opening and is still home to incredible talent.
Whilst we sat in our seats waiting for the show to begin I enjoyed reading the performance history of the actors, it’s always interesting to find out what their background is and occasionally you recognise them from previous work they have done. Does anyone else enjoy this? It’s a ritual now whenever I see a show.
A little bit about the show…
Jerry Travers is an American dancer who travels to London to star in a West End show, produced by the idiotic Horace Hardwick. Whilst practicing his tap dancing routine he ends up awakening the beautiful Miss Dale Tremont. After a good telling off, he immediately falls in love with her and begins to follow her all around town to win her affection. She somehow mistakes Jerry for Horace, the husband of her friend Madge and escapes to Italy with the flamboyant Italian fashion designer Alberto Beddini. After a proposal and a wedding, both from two different men, Dale soon realises she has made a mistake and reconciles with her love, Jerry Travers.
As the live orchestra started to play the overture and the golden curtains parted, I was already tapping my feet and the excitement was building rapidly. The brilliant cast were led by Alan Burkitt (Jerry Travers) and Charlotte Gooch (Dale Tremont), who I would praise as the perfect pair to play these iconic characters. With big shoes to fill I wasn’t sure anyone could live up to the talents of Astaire and Rogers but these two have surely raised the bar.
Puttin’ On The Ritz set an energetic pace for the rest of the production, oozing such class and sophistication that took you all the way back to 1935 when the original film took place. I started to fall in love with the era, the music and Jerry Travers – I suddenly wanted to take up dance again!
As the show went on and more songs were sung and danced to, the more I realised I had heard several of the songs before without the Top Hat association. Cheek To Cheek and Let’s Face The Music are all classics most of you will have heard before, whether in an advert or on Strictly Come Dancing, they are some of theatre’s greatest musical numbers to date. I don’t think there was one person in the audience who didn’t want to get up on that stage and join in.
Horace and his wife Madge, played by the wonderful Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill, make up the comedy sub-plot with Gooch and Burkitt. Horace’s butler Bates (John Conroy) is a gem to watch, cue a sequence of funny disguises and accents as he keeps a close eye on Dale Tremont, while latino Sebastien Torkia (Alberto Beddini) steals the show at one point in his pants. Yes, it is just as brilliant and absurd as it sounds – what’s not to love? Burkitt makes tap dancing look so effortless and does it with cheeky charm, especially when he sweeps Gooch off her feet in that iconic feather gown.
Top Hat is a beautifully written love story with a humorous case of mistaken identity, brought to life through an astounding cast of talented individuals. Aside from the leading ladies and gents, the ensemble were just as entertaining and stunning to watch. They all seemed to be loving every moment they were on that stage, a ‘dream job’ for any musical theatre actor I can imagine. It is with thanks to Burkitt and the rest of this cast that Top Hat is now cemented as one of my all-time favourite musicals, sitting comfortably alongside Chicago.
Choreographed by Bill Deamer and directed by Matthew White, the team behind the production have created something spectacular and no doubt will leave audiences all around the UK falling in love with the show. The lavish sets, glam costumes and timeless music really make it a magical and memorable performance, I’ve had the soundtrack stuck in my head ever since and there doesn’t seem to be a sign of that stopping.
Top Hat, Top Show.
See here for the Top Hat tour dates, and let me know if you see it!