Anne Cox reviews a revamped all-singing, all-dancing production of Top Hat at Milton Keynes Theatre ahead of its nationwide tour
Top Hat is back on stage and it’s looking as splendidly sumptuous as ever.
It has been almost year since the award-winning musical closed in the West End and its producer, Kenny Wax, has used the time to recast and reboot for a huge tour to showcase this heavenly musical. It first debuted in 2011 at Milton Keynes Theatre before a brief tour and a 17-month residency in London’s West End.
Wax has since described the original show as “a work in progress” and after seeing both productions, they are certainly poles apart, with many changes for the better.
The show returned to Milton Keynes Theatre last night at the start of the tour and left the opening night audience with cheesy grins, and tip-tapping out of the building as though they knew what they were doing.
Some may even have been inspired to learn to tap by this peerless performance from an immaculate cast led by Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch.
The production, re-worked by Matthew White and Howard Jaques, is based on Irving Berlin’s 1935 RKO Hollywood film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And it has the look and feel of those big budget dance movies where no expense is spared.
It’s all there on the stage. The Hildegarde Bechtler sets are lavish and the glamorous costumes, designed by Jon Morrell, are to die for. Add a live orchestra and a large, energetic, cast and this is one marvellous night’s entertainment.
Top Hat starts with a bang. Puttin’ On The Ritz as an opening number is masterly and sets the tone for the rest of the production. The musical numbers in the show are arguably some of theatre’s greatest songs. Among the goodies are Cheek To Cheek, Let’s Face The Music, I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket and the eponymous Top Hat.
The story revolves around Broadway star Jerry Travers (Burkitt) who crosses the pond to appear in the West End. He’s staying in a London hotel with his producer, Horace Hardwick and gets on the wrong side of a guest (the sparkling Miss Dale Tremont) who is kept awake by his tap dancing.
What follows is a beautifully crafted and wonderfully funny love story contained in a tale of mistaken identity. While Travers pursues the initially ice-cold Tremont, Horace and his wife, Madge – the brilliant Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill – lead the comedy subplot.
John Conroy, as their butler, Bates, is an absolute treasure, throwing out bon mots, adopting a series of daft disguises and talking in the royal “we”. Sebastian Torkia is a pantomime Italian fashion designer with a streak of Latin preposterousness but his absurd accent and behaviour is hilarious.
In-between the feather-light story is the dancing, choreographed by Bill Deamer. You could sit watching the boyish Burkitt tap-dance all night. He makes it look effortless and he performs every routine with charm and elegance.
When he sweeps the beautiful blonde Dale off her feet, in an adaptation of that iconic white feather gown worn by Ginger, you’re with them all the way, watching every low dip of her body and swish of her astonishing dress.
Director Matthew White has created a must-see musical that will leave audiences up and down the country entranced. It’s a mystery how the West End could have turned its back on such a quality production. Their loss is our gain. See it.
Top Hat is at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Sept 6 and nationwide at the following venues:
9-20 Sep, Theatre Royal, Newcastle
23 Sep-4 Oct, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
7-18 Oct, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
21 Oct-1 Nov, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
4-15 Nov, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
18-29 Nov, Bristol Hippodrome
2-13 Dec, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
23 Dec-4 Jan 2015, Grand Theatre, Leeds
14-24 Jan, Welsh Millennium Centre, Cardiff
28 Jan-07 Feb, New Theatre, Oxford
10-21 Feb, Manchester Opera House
24 Feb-7 Mar, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
10-21 Mar, Birmingham Hippodrome
31 Mar-11 Apr, Theatre Royal, Norwich
14-25 Apr, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
28 Apr-9 May, Theatre Royal Plymouth
12-23 May, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
24 Jun-5 Jul, Empire Theatre, Sunderland
7-18 Jul, New Victoria Theatre, Woking
21-26 Jul, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne