Irving Berlin’s stylish musical comedy, Top Hat, is a courageous choice for Carlton Operatic, one of Nottingham’s premiere amateur musical societies, to produce. They are challenged with the big dance numbers, many of which are tap based; the replication of well loved songs; and the ghosts of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – supreme dancers both. The orchestration needs to be lush and sweep us back to 1935 New York, London and Venice. The sets need to ooze glamour and the costumes need to blow us away with their style and elegance. The Top Hat singing and dancing needs to be Top Hat top notch. So, Carlton Operatic, let’s face the music and review!
Given the quality of last year’s West Side Story this reviewer is sat with high hopes for the production. As an audience member there is a tremulous moment when a show like this starts. One hopes to heaven that what unfolds will bring a smile to the soul and enable one to relax for the next couple of hours in good musical theatre company. ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ by Jerry (Johnathan Allen) and the classy Top Hat ensemble does just that – making a perfect start to this most excellent production.
Written in 1935 the verbal gags are rather cheesy but this company recognises this and don’t load the verbal humour too heavily on us. The piece still remains funny through the storyline of mistaken identity battling with the hearts of two young people; a popular entertainer called Jerry (Johnathan Allen) and a society model Dale Tremont (Abby Wells). It is a classical musical theatre story of love triumphing over all through a dazzling succession of musical numbers by Irving Berlin such as ‘I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket’, ‘Lovely Day/You’re Easy To Dance With’ ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’, ‘What Is Love?’, ‘Cheek To Cheek’, ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’. As the leads, Allen and Wells put in super performances that make the roles their own. Allen has bags of humour, style and charm enhanced with some fine dancing and Wells develops her role from haughty miss to lovable woman confused in love. Wells’ beautiful singing is one of the highlights of this production of Top Hat, as is her superb dancing.
In the broader comedy parts Graham Ward as Horace Hardwick and Sarah Walker-Smith as Madge Hardwick are the perfect bickering couple. They bring the house down with their daft antics and their skilfully done rendition of ‘Outside Of That, I Love You’. Matt Wesson is fantastic as the rather camp butler Bates, a man who is constantly making accented reference to his friends and relatives glib sayings.
As Italian fashion designer Alberto Beddini (Drew Dennis) Dennis is spot on with his accent and body language and makes us wonder just how far he is going to go with his comic strip tease. Like the other aforementioned comic roles, it is a delight every time Dennis appears on the stage.
The show is beautifully directed and choreographed by Ross Lowe and Rachael Rees respectively, with discipline and style oozing from every part of the well drilled ensemble of over thirty members, all of whom seem to be having a blast on stage. The period costumes are simply wonderful and Christopher Rees musical direction and his live orchestra give us great musical confidence and enjoyment in this top class show. The sets are outstanding.
Overall, we thoroughly recommend Top Hat as a great old style evening’s entertainment that has echoes of a Broadway production. We were singing and dancing all the way home.
Top Hat runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal 29th May – 2nd June.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
Photo credits: Gavin Mawditt.