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Oct 1st, 2012
A mere four years ago, Holby City's Tom Chambers competed in, and won BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, blowing away the judges and audiences alike. Fast forward to today, and Chambers has taken on the role of Jerry Travers, made famous by Fred Astaire in RKO's 1935's musical film Top Hat, opposite Ginger Rogers as leading lady Dale Tremont, played to icy, coquettish perfection by West End actress du jour, Summer Strallen.
With a well-practiced crooked smile and a nasal Noo-Yorrk twang, to white teeth that can be seen from the moon, Chambers is Astaire to a T - albeit a few inches taller.
Strallen shows us why she is in such high demand throughout Theatreland. As Dale, she is a flawless dancer, whether it be tapdancing 'awkwardly' with Chambers for the first time, or a balletic arabesque later on. Her voice positively soars - especially during her solo "Easy to Dance With".
The show is an elegantly comedic farce, part-play, part dance spectacle, centred around a simple case of mistaken identity in a London hotel room, travelling later to the sunsoaked millionaire playground of Venice. Much of the humour comes from the strong supporting cast, especially Martin Ball as Horace Hardwick, Travers' hapless and nervous stage manager and confidante. The flamboyant designer Alberto Beddini is played with Latin bravado by Ricardo Alfonso, to hilarious effect, especially when challenging Hardwick to a duel - with a spoon.
But the best laughs come from Hardwick's aloof and eloquent butler Bates, (played by theatre veteran Stephen Boswell), who provides cutting remarks, batty anecdotes and rib-ticklingly funny disguises whilst tailing Dale in Venice. Asked by a snooty Venetian patron what a fly was doing in her gelato, he acidly replies, "Tobogganing, madam."
Another mention goes to Vivien Parry as the gold-digging and cynical Madge Hardwick, who raises many laughs with her sneering indifference at the expense of her long-suffering husband Horace.
The dance numbers only just manages to take precedence over the comedy scenes, but are also equally memorable. "Top Hat, Tie and Tails" unites the cast and ensemble in a toe-tapping pre-interval finale, complete with snappy coat-tail tuxedos worn by both the dapper gents and girls. And of course, the number we're all waiting for - "Cheek to Cheek" - is worth the wait, with Chambers and Strallen whirling away alone in the ballroom.
If the original Top Hat had been filmed in Technicolor 77 years ago, it would have looked a LOT like this show. Fred and Ginger would rest easy in the knowledge that their masterpiece is in very capable hands (and feet!).
Great night out: for couples young and young-at-heart!
Morning after effect: Morning after? You'll be tapdancing your way home from the theatre. You'll probably even want your own butler. And there's every chance you'll be singing, "There may be trouble ahead..." whilst watching the morning travel reports
Recommend to friends? Absoluuuuutely, sir
The best bits: Bates' "cunning disguises"; ALL the dance numbers. And did we mention Bates?
Set against a Thirties backdrop, it's wall-to-wall Art Deco with sweeping ceilings and fittings, subtly changing between scenes to great effect.
The show will appeal to fans of dance as well as the old Astaire/Rogers movies. The focus is more on dancing rather than wall-to-wall singing of most musicals, so if you're not a huge fan of characters breaking out in song every five minutes, this is for you. Younger viewers may find the comedy going over their heads.
Seats are quite cramped and hard; people requiring extra leg length would be advised to book aisle seats. Take care when getting up to let late arrivals past - we found ourselves catching the backs of our legs on our seats.
View our show pages for more information about Top Hat, Aldwych Theatre.
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