“You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there”
On the face of it, Top Hat should have been a rip-roaring extravaganza of a show that tapped and waltzed and strutted its way right into my affections, featuring some of my favourite things like a healthy selection of classic songs from the Irving Berlin back catalogue and the kind of choreography from Bill Deamer that genuinely makes me wonder if it isn’t too late to find my inner Billy Elliot (don’t worry, I know it is…). But at this Tuesday matinée, I found it was particularly topping to be there and I was sadly left a little underwhelmed by the whole shebang.
It seems perverse to comment on the plot of a musical being far-fetched, especially one based on an old-school Broadway film as this is, but the book here – adapted by director Matthew White and Howard Jacques – is criminally lame. The story is a whole lot of silliness, which is fine – girl complains about guy dancing in the room above her, guy flirts with girl, girl gets cold feet when she think s guy is married to her best friend. Oh, and the guy is a leading Broadway star about to open a show. Where the problem lies is in the incredibly dated humour, which one can just about explain away as a period piece, but which just sags and droops with lame joke after overblown stereotype which was lapped up all too easily by this audience, of whom I was the youngest member by quite some margin.
This all meant that I was basically holding my breath waiting for the next dance number to start. And they are mightily impressive – led by Tom Chambers, who is perfectly charming as the guy, and Summer Strallen, who has a lovely warm sense of humour to accompany her graceful dancing as the girl – the big production numbers look fantastic, especially in Hildegard Bechtler’s art deco sets. But even here, there’s not really enough chemistry between them to pull us into their story, and the relentlessly chirpy nature of proceedings veers a little too close to schmaltz on occasion, mainly because I can’t hear the lyrics of ‘Let’s Face The Music and Dance’ without tearing up.
There’s entertainment to be had in the supporting performances, especially from Vivien Parry and Martin Ball, and Ricardo Afonso’s fashion designer is amusing once you can get past the “he’s FUNNY because he’s FOREIGN!” schtick. But the whole thing is never quite exciting enough, it never captures the joie de vivre to truly lift the spirits: without a decent book on which to hang the excellent song and dance, this is a top hat without the white tie and tails.