After the long-running film-to-stage adaptation of Dirty Dancing and the recent Midnight Tango, which both played at the Aldwych, Top Hat, another movie musical, has now been adapted for the same stage, and is headlined by 2008 Strictly Come Dancing champion Tom Chambers. The Aldwych feels as though it is turning into a West End dance centre alternative to Sadler’s Wells, just around the corner from that theatre’s Peacock outpost.
Summer Strallen (Dale Tremont) and Tom Chambers (Jerry Travers) in Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre Photo: Tristram Kenton
But next to the sultry, sweaty versions of sex-driven dance in each of the prior shows, Top Hat is altogether tamer and lamer; it’s so squeaky clean that you could take it home to meet your mum. She’ll also be happy that she recognises most of the songs, and almost all of the jokes - if ever a book recycled more old groaners, I’d be surprised.
Matinees and away-day trips from old people’s homes will lap it up in a glow of nostalgic memory. It’s a show that feels diligently, but not too inspiringly, processed out of an amalgamation of past, similar, shows, from 42nd Street and Singin’ in the Rain, both also originally drawn from movies, to My One and Only and the current Broadway show Nice Work If You Can Get It, that have been constructed out drawn out of the top drawer of the back catalogues of the Great American songbook.
This time, of course, it is Irving Berlin (whose Annie Get Your Gun was once revived at this address) who gets to put on the glitz, not to mention ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, originally written as the title song for another 1930 film, and interpolated here alongside the original songs to the 1935 Astaire/Rogers film Top Hat like the Oscar-nominated Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, and Isn’t it a Lovely Day (to be caught out in the rain).
While those songs are generating their particular magic, it makes for a lovely night to be caught in the Aldwych, as both the show and its spectators float effortlessly in the pleasure of a series of big, lavishly staged production numbers, given terrific style and zest by choreographer Bill Deamer and danced up a storm here. Though Tom Chambers is sometimes effortful as he tries to summons the incomparable Fred Astaire as a playboy Broadway star who arrives in the UK to reprise a show here (but doesn’t seem to spend much, if any time, actually rehearsing, going off to meet the rest of the company just before the curtain up for the first night), he is stylishly partnered by Summer Strallen, stepping up to star billing for the first time, in the Ginger Rogers role of the woman he falls in love with.
Though there’s enough infectious pleasure in the dance numbers to paper over the frequent longeurs elsewhere, the show crashes back to earth in its convoluted, groaning book scenes, overpopulated with side stories. Sadly it is not Me and My Girl or My One and Only, which gave you something to laugh at as well as hum along to.
Here, the humming frequently becomes a hmmm between numbers. The adaptation is credited to Matthew White (also the show’s director) and Howard Jacques (also the show’s lead producer under his real name Kenny Wax), and though both of them have done smart work in their other lead roles, it’s surprising that the director and producer didn’t demand a better, leaner book.