TOP HAT SHEFFIELD LYCEUM FEB 24th 2015
In 1935, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers wowed audiences in the blockbuster movie Top Hat. Strong plotlines never featured high in those rom-coms, of course; nor did colour. It was all about the music, the dance and the silly, sweet romance.
With similar light touch, the live version, first staged in 2011, blends the comedy of corny jokes and mistaken identity with the grandeur of extravagant sets, large cast and glorious costumes in a song and dance extravaganza, this time in full colour.
Special praise must go to Hildegard Bechtler’s set with its beautiful art deco hotel rooms and lobby, Venetian sunset, and elegant, moveable partition shutters that cleverly hone in on different onstage spaces, while Irving Berlin’s music never fails to entrance with songs like Cheek to Cheek. Extra melodic treats have been drafted in, too, in classic songs like Let’s Face the Music and Puttin’ on the Ritz. Chris Walker’s arrangements, delivered by eleven fine multi-instrumental players, create a superb full orchestral sound that allows musical tones of the thirties to peep through, assisted on occasion by some of that ‘heavenly choir’ choral work, so popular at the time.
Light and breezy music is perfect for light and breezy footwork, from tap-dancing spectacles with top hats and canes to grand, elegant, sweeping dances. There’s a real frisson when light-footed Alan Burkitt, as likeable Jerry Travers, and elegant Charlotte Gooch, as no-nonsense Dale Tremont, dance together in thunder and lightning, proclaiming ‘It’s a Lovely Day’ and there’s admirable solo work, too, from each.
The comedy goes down particularly well. John Conroy earns loud applause as po-faced, dry wit manservant Bates, who appears in various guises – waiter, old dowager Lady, Venetian gondolier – coming up with quotations for every occasion from a strange array of relatives in an unlikely variety of accents. Rebecca Thornhill and Clive Hayward bring fun and credibility to the love-hate relationship of Madge and Horace Hardwick, and Sebastien Torkia’s bridegroom scene is a big hit as his Alberto Beddini shows off both muscles and sock-suspenders.
This show doesn’t quite hit the heady heights of unparalleled glamour, elegance and smooth, slick sparkle that Anything Goes reached on the Crucible’s unique stage earlier this year (- now touring) but the verdict of those exiting the Lyceum was, ‘Brilliant!’
Eileen Caiger Gray
The show tours until July.