Last night theatre-goers flocked to the Birmingham Hippodrome in posh frocks and dinner suits, “spending every dime for a wonderful time” at the special “Top Hats and Tiaras” themed opening of Top Hat.
Based on the classic 1935 RKO movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat is an Olivier Award-winning musical adapted by Matthew White and Howard Jacques. The original film was the first to have a score comprised entirely of brand-new songs by the Golden-Era master, Irving Berlin, and proved a phenomenal success, breaking box office records and inspiring new dance trends while cementing the burgeoning popularity of its songwriter and stars. Already a soaring success in its own right, the stage production is the first Irving Berlin movie to be adapted for live performance, packing out theatres and kindling a love of the songs and story in a new generation.
Returning to the Birmingham Hippodrome after its previous run in 2011, the show has been hotly anticipated by attendees, with many avid attendees booking their tickets many months in advance. And if last night’s smiling faces and thunderous applause are anything to judge by, it seems that it more than lived up to expectations.
The performances were top notch, with Alan Burkitt deftly capturing Jerry Travers’s cheeky charm, while John Conroy as the Hardwicks’ in cognito butler, Bates, and Sebastien Torkia as ambitious Italian fashion designer, Beddini, left the audience giggling like children. Despite a few vocal slips, Charlotte Gooch made a charismatic and beautiful Dale Tremont, expertly and energetically pulling off some very difficult dance moves. Dancing and choreography were faultless all round, and both Burkitt and Torkia delivered Berlin’s iconic tunes with pitch-perfect gusto They were helped along by an excellent orchestra (led by Jae Alexander) who alone would have made this show worth attending.
It wasn’t just the viewers looking fabulous, either – there were some truly stunning costumes on stage. My personal favourite was a radial pleated gown in shimmering gold that made its wearer shine like a sunbeam, followed a close second by Madge’s saucy, red satin number, complete with a low, draped back and offset by a dazzling white crystal choker.
Even more striking than these, however, was the lavish yet versatile set which allowed for fluid shifts in location from New York to London to Venice. The portrayal of Jerry tap-dancing with a hatstand in the hotel room above Dale’s was particularly well-designed, using a clever trick to allow us to see both rooms side-by-side at once.
The performance closed with an unquestionably deserved standing ovation and extra renditions of songs that will no doubt be stuck in viewers’ heads for weeks. Definitely a show worth every dime.