Top Hat – Aldwych Theatre – Review


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!

Hello, can you put me through to Theatre Thoughts dot com please??

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.

The brilliant cast opening Act 2.

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.

Martin Ball and Ricardo Afonso

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.

Tom Chambers putting on his Top Hat, White Tie and Tails

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)


26 thoughts on “Top Hat – Aldwych Theatre – Review

  1. Well, your description of Tom Chambers performance sounds just like one of Fred Astaire, who made up in charm his other failings.

  2. Hi Jolyon, I’m aware that many are saying the wooden acting etc . is him “channelling” Astaire. Alas I didn’t find he made it up in charm though (smarm yes). If his decision was to emulate Astaire that was a flawed idea, he sould have brought himself or other ideas to role as have rest of cast. Maybe that’s part of reason he didn’t “click” with me in the show?

    Thanks for the kind words Robin.

  3. Sounds as if it is dated, seen and heard it too many times in too many ways elsewhere. Another ‘tame’ one.

  4. You must be joking! We saw the show in Norwich and again today in London, Tom Chambers is an outstanding dancer, and this is what Top Hat is all about – dancing, the plot is tongue in cheek but surely that’s what it is supposed to be darling! its the dancing that counts and that was BLOOMING GREAT. We will be going again.

  5. Hi Linda,

    dancer yes, outstanding no, good yes! As I state the dancing by all (except lead) WAS “blooming great” I love a tongue in cheek plot as much as next person (see my Crazy for You review). I think you’re right Debbie, perhaps this has dated too much?

    The show is about dancing of course but as most of those dances require singing, that was where I was most let down by Tom Chambers.

    If it floats your boat that’s great Linda, as I said it wasn’t an awful show, it just didn’t reach the heights I was expecting. Let’s hope Singin in the Rain does 🙂

  6. Well Dominick, we are all entitled to our opinions so will have to agree to differ, I will say that the show got a standing ovation when I was there on Saturday afternoon. We are off to see Singing in the Rain on 29th May, lets see if our opinions vary again. x

  7. Absolutely agree Linda and as I said in my review I was expecting to be in a minority with my thoughts on Tom Chambers, so we’ll agree to disagree.

    We’ll definitely compare thoughts re: Singin in the Rain! (we may suprise each other and agree 🙂 ) I think you’ll see that Adam Cooper is in a different league to Tom Chambers.

    I never put too much on standing ovations anymore as I think we’ve become too Americanised and give them too freely in this country now, compared to how it used to be. People stood the night I went, most notably the Strictly Come Dancing people who went to see him but I’d argue they were hardly impartial 🙂

    Did you get to see Crazy For You when that was on?

  8. tom chambers was brilliant summer strallen was the weak link no life not much of a dancer and bad diction tom his tap dancing amazing unlike fred he does it in one take and its not dubbed in later- a totally unfair review

  9. I saw Singing in the Rain recently and Top Hat last night and preferred Top Hat and if the reviewer pondered for 24 hours to write his review he is “over thinking” it. Top Hat was fantastic visually the dancing was first rate and the music was executed beautifully. I thought Tom Chambers had a cheeky charm and actually sang a little like Fred Astaire. There was a standing ovation from the audience who clapped at almost every scene. Great feel good entertainment.

  10. hi Marianne,

    interesting you prefer Top Hat, I don’t think I was “over thinking”, I was just trying to put finger on why Tom Chambers didn’t do it for me.

    I may have to bring my Singin in the Rain visit forward, be interesting to see if I think Top Hat was better.

  11. I saw Top Hat at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking before it transferred to London. I thought Tom Chambers was outstanding – good singing, brilliant dancing. It’s not true to say he only learned to dance at Strictly. He was a tap dancer long before – I knew him when he was at Guildford School of Acting. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I think one should be careful of condemning performers in such an outspoken manner without knowing the facts.

  12. Hi Jane,

    I was under the impression that Strictly contestants had no or very limited dancing experience before going on the show. Clearly that’s not the case.

    I’ve not condemned him, I have said (repeatedly) his performance was good, but in my opinion not outstanding. He was strongest in the tap sections, but lacked the finesse in the ballroom dances. We’ll agree to disagree about his singing. As I said in my review I was expecting to be in a minority, and I’m not saying what I said above to be contrarian. If others love him and the show, that’s great. It’s clearly going to be a popular show and anything that helps people enjoy themselves and take away their worries for a few hours is good in my books.

    If you get the chance to see it again in London let me know what you think of the transfer, as it’d be interesting to know if any changes have been made since it toured last year.

  13. Think you must have seen a different show to me. Saw Top Hat last night and thought Tom Cambers was amazing. It was Summer Strallen who fell short for me. Tom may not have a great voice but I thought his dancing was ellegant and effortless. We loved this show and I’m not that easy to please.

  14. Tony and Doreen

    We saw the show in Canterbury and thought Tom Chambers performed outstanding dance routines remember Astair couldn’t sing either the whole show was fun and entertaining and glizzy despicting the era perfectly. Tom Chambers is work in progress and his report so far is ‘keep up the good work’. Looking forward to seeing the London show.

  15. I’ve heard that some time soon an understudy (who may address your mis-givings about the male lead) will temporarily take over for a couple of weeks…I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a confirmation announcement.

  16. Having watched the original film until i knew it off by heart as a child I found the production with last night’s lead Alan Burkitt amazing! He played the character in a believable way engaging well with the audience. He has the swanky sway of the original character and danced the part beautifully. The original storyline was thin, so the production has stayed true to that. However, one does not pay good money to see Top Hat for the storyline. It’s the dancing and the beautiful songs that are the attraction. I appreciate the stage was sometimes a little crowded, but more than made up for by the very talented team and especially the performance of Alan Burkitt and his leading lady.

  17. Hi Kasmin,

    thanks for the comment, as I originally said I thought Alan Burkitt was brilliant when he opened Act 2 in the original. I’m pleased he’s been given a chance to shine as the lead. The run has been extended to Sept 2013, and I wonder if he’ll be offered the lead once Tom Chambers comes to the end of his contract?

  18. Saw Top Hat the other night. Agree with your review Dominick, spot on. I would also add that I found Summer Strallen’s voice rather nasal and weak in transitions but her dancing and physicality were excellent. I think there are a few shills in your comments section! Tom Chambers dancing was good but by no mean’s outstanding. There is a yawning chasm between the two adjectives that escapes many people.

  19. Hi Soso,

    Thanks for the comment! Glad to know others agree with me 🙂

    Summer Strallen’s time on the show comes to an end soon, it’ll be interesting to see who they replace her with.

    all the best


  20. Pingback: Singin’ in the Rain – Palace Theatre, London – Review | Theatre Thoughts Blog

  21. Pingback: 2012 – Theatrical Highs (and one low point) | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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