Top Hat, Bristol Hippodrome

revstophat2TOP Hat has only been a stage show for three years, and after a successful run at the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End, the show began a year-long National tour in August, and is at Bristol for the next two weeks.  It started life as one of the famous Fred and Ginger musicals, made by RKO, the third of ten films they made together in the six years before the Second World War, and it became one of RKO’s biggest Box Office hits, including many songs which are now part of the Great American Songbook, such as Dancing Cheek to Cheek and Putting on the Ritz.

The set for this stage version is full of delights, from the art deco shutters which glide across the front to curtain off the full scene changes, through large complicated rooms in hotels, outdoor parks and piazzas, revolving beds and desks, to ingenious part-stage sets including a hansom cab and the inside of an airplane, all moving seemlessly from one scene to another, often covered with an ingenious vignette of dance or clever comic moment.

In the “Astaire and Rogers” roles of Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont, all that is required are two “triple threats” – actors who can sing, dance and act, all at the same time, to extremes of accuracy, timing, volume and pathos, and remain completely believable whether communicating via the medium of spoken word, song and/or dance, and in Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch that is exactly what the producers have managed to find. The vocal accuracy in itself would put many singers to shame, but when added to the physical dexterity from tap to jazz dancing, faithfully reproducing famous moves from the film whilst adding new ones, this was dancing, singing and all-round acting at its very best. There is strong support, dramatic and comic, from Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill as the Hardwicks, Sebastian Torkia as the comfortably stereotypical Italian fashion designer, and in an outstanding performance of many costumes and accents, John Conroy as Bates the valet.

revstophat1On top of this, an amazing ensemble of more than twenty play a multitude of minor characters, one notably playing two hotel managers and a dresser, as well as filling the stage with slick, tight choreography and singing that would easily match a Walt Disney choir. The set, costume, lighting, ensemble and orchestra all combine to give an overall effect of a spectacular Hollywood film happening in three dimensions right inside the theatre.

The show would almost be worth seeing for the orchestra alone – with a lively conductor, and many musicians responsible for two, three, or even four instruments, all sounding at times as though there were so many more than the twelve people credited, and with some lovely solos during the dance breaks, noticeably on trombone, viola and bass clarinet, or was it a baritone sax?

A final mention to the follow-spot operators, based at Bristol and not part of the tour, who kept their dancing lights firmly and accurately on Jerry and Dale through all of their wonderful sequences, helping add to the magical atmosphere which kept a packed house entranced for the whole, thoroughly entertaining, evening.


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