Another touch of class comes to London’s West End this week with the opening of Top Hat. I was there for the opening preview performance, but as this had toured earlier in 2011 with most of the original cast back in London now, it’s not quite the brand new preview some are (and the ticket prices reflected that too!).
I’ve pondered hard for 24hrs on how to tackle this review, regular readers know that I love a feel-good musical, that I love this era of history and this style of music. (see my review of Crazy for You for an example) So surely I should have been in for a treat with Top Hat? In fact I was so keen to see it I booked tickets for this rather than Singin in the Rain (which I’m seeing later in the year). However something about this show didn’t work for me, let me try to explain why….
Let me just say though, there was a GREAT deal I loved about this show – Firstly Summer Strallen is a perfect leading lady for this production, sassy, sultry and sexy. She can sing, dance and act, the definition of the “Triple Threat”. She was magnificent and every time she was on stage she was fabulous. She glided effortlessly around the stage, filled it with her voice and got great laughs with her comic turns. Part of my reason for choosing to see Top Hat was her being cast as the lead after seeing her in Love Never Dies, I’m glad to say she didn’t disappoint at all. Bravo!
The ensemble was energetic, slick and timed to perfection in their numbers of which I was glad to see there were many, the theatre positively glowed during these numbers as we were all transfixed by their quick tapping toes.
Alan Burkitt and Kay Murphey opened Act 2 with a superb Argentine tango, and it was great to see them getting a chance in the limelight as they deserved it.
Stephen Boswell as Bates gave a great comic performance, playing this part up superbly he added a sublime and absurd comic touch to the show, his varying disguises got sillier and sillier much to the enjoyment of us all.
Vivien Parry as wealthy match maker Madge Hardwick was a real boost to the show, a shame she was only in Act 2, but her presence during that Act was certainly a reason I felt it went up a gear from Act 1. Martin Ball was the affable Horace Hardwick, his repartee with Vivien was another highlight of Act 2 for me.
Act 2 (possibly the show?) was stolen by Ricardo Afonso the outrageous and flamboyant Italian Alberto Beddini especially his number “Latin Knows How”. He pranced and strutted around the stage, and got a huge response, justifiably.
So I hear you wondering, “this all sounds great, what on earth makes you feel this show didn’t work for you??” Here we go…
Firstly, I’m all for paper-thin plots in musicals, but this is so predictable, and over the top it is just incredulous, secondly most of the jokes write themselves and much of the humour is lost as the jokes are so obvious too.
I also actually think it’s in the wrong theatre, as the cast swamp the stage and it looks too cramped for them on numerous occasions, the cast should be cut by 4 or moved to bigger theatre to make most of the choreography which was very good.
The real reason this did not work for me is actually the lead, Tom Chambers ( an actor unknown to me as I don’t watch Holby City) I said Summer Strallen epitomizes the “Triple Threat”, he does the opposite, wooden acting, dancing that was good but nothing special ( and YES I do appreciate he only learnt to dance back in 2008 on Strictly Come Dancing but I go to amateur theatre to support people developing new skills, professional theatre is not the venue for that) and unfortunately his singing was flat and powerless throughout. He has the weirdest facial expressions that he made continually that just became irritating. The effortlessness of the cast doesn’t make its way to him, rather than lead, it looks like he’s following. I’m going to sound like Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly now, but “thumbs and hands DAAAARRRRLING”,he desperately needs to sort those out, as his lack of finesse showed up compared to rest of cast. The fact that he’s a former Strictly contestant is evident throughout unfortunately.
There also didn’t seem to be a tangible chemistry between him and Summer Strallen which I think is so key to this show.
I can hear the backlash beginning already that I’m being too harsh BUT this is a WEST END SHOW, up the road we have numerous other leading men that are EXCEPTIONAL (Sean Palmers, Adam Cooper immediately come to mind), Tom Chambers was good, however for a West End show I expect (and I’d argue I’m paying) for the best. I’m a firm believer that “the good is the enemy of the best” and the casting of Tom Chambers is an example of that.
So there is much to commend this show to you, stunning costumes that literally make the audience gasp on occasions. great song and dance numbers, some fabulous solo moments, but (and it’s a BIG but), this can’t make up for the leading man not being up to it really. A real shame I so wanted this show to work, but the poor plot, cramped stage and less than ideal leading man make this a good show, but a way off the best.
STARS : * * * (and a half)