Culture writers Alice Landray and Frankie Rhodes review a selection from the REP's Foundry WorksWritten by Alice Landray & Frankie Rhodes on 7th December 2018
Review: Top Hat at the Wolverhampton Grand
Culture critic Frankie Rhodes reviews an impressive production of classic musical Top Hat at the Wolverhampton Grand
There's something evocative about watching a classic black-and-white movie, complete with rich American intonation, and elegant dance numbers. What's even better, however, is watching such a beautiful concept come alive some eighty years later, with the same nostalgic appeal. Such was my experience last night, during South Staffs Musical Theatre Company's production of Top Hat, at The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.
Based on the glamorous 1935 film of the same name, Top Hat recounts the story of jazz sensation Jerry Travers, in his elaborate quest to secure the heart of the beautiful, headstrong Dale Tremont. At his faithful side is Horace Hardwick, his lovable, aging producer, forced to manage both the musical and romantic affairs of his protégé. This would be easy enough, were he not also juggling the demands of his rocky marriage with his gold-digging, high-maintenance wife Madge. Spanning three beautiful cities, and including fourteen hit numbers by Irving Berlin, this musical promises to impress its audience.
“'Spanning three beautiful cities, and including fourteen hit numbers by Irving Berlin, this musical promises to impress its audience...And impress, it certainly did
And impress, it certainly did. The curtains open to a stunning New York skyline, where turquoise-and-gold-clad dancers herald the entrance of Mr Travers, who effortlessly dances his way through his first musical number, 'Puttin' On The Ritz.' At only seventeen years old, Harry Simkin brings an added cheekiness to the character originally played by Fred Astaire, and a sense of boyish charm that makes his desperate pining for Dale all the more convincing. Yet, when Simkin begins to dance, gone is any essence of childishness, and instead we are met with a level of sophistication and expert engagement, which cannot help but dominate the stage.
It is not until slightly later that we meet our leading lady, and when we do, she is as obstinate and elegant as the Hollywood diva stereotype requires. Fiona Winning's skilled dancing is apparent from the offset, yet it is only in the second Act that the audience really begins to appreciate her beautiful soprano vocals. Her performance of 'Better Luck Next Time' was a highlight for me- and even when sung before a picturesque moonlit background, nothing could be as captivating as her voice.
Yet, the variety of scenery, attention to detail, and precision of the ensemble was the real driving force of the production, providing the perfect atmosphere for every moment. You can imagine yourself in Selfridges as the hotel lobby transforms into a lively, glamorous interior, and are introduced to a tranquil, hand-painted Venetian sea upon the second act. Against these mesmerizing backdrops the ensemble slot in, becoming hotel staff, jazz dancers, and party-goers at the flick of the curtain. As this was my first ever jazz musical, I was personally bowled over by the sheer number of routines the chorus were able to perform, in a range of different genres. Members were not only brilliant dancers, but able vocalists, and at times, comedic actors.
It's a shame that minor details interrupted the otherwise perfect precision of the musical, such as the occasional mic not turning on immediately, lines stumbled over, and scenery slightly out of place. Still, any obstacle encountered during the performance was handled with discretion and composure, so that mistakes simply became part of the show, and that is a skill which must be appraised.
Complimenting the two young leads were the comic duo Horace and Madge, performed by Roger Stokes and Nikki Rai. Stokes captured perfectly the persona of the "bumbling fool", from his wistful delivery to his waddle-esque walk. Rai also brought a mature sense of glamour to her part and induced many laughs from the audience with her sarcastic laments. I was glad in the second act to be treated to a comic duet from the pair, which gave them a much-deserved spot in the limelight. Other elements of the musical were also humorous, particularly the spontaneous remarks from Bates, (John Wiley), and the hilarious, flamboyant performance of Alberto Beddini (Dom Napier.) To avoid spoilers, I won't get into specifics about Napier's particularly entertaining scene, but trust me, you'd love it.
“Top Hat is a musical that will have you feeling part of the glitz and the glamour, admiring the wonderful talent
Of course, it has to be said that the leading pair- Jerry and Dale- really shaped the musical for me, with more dazzling scenes than I have space to write about. One moment the couple are tap dancing in the park, as bursts of thunder and lightning serenade their routine, and the next they are performing a beautiful pas de deux, for which "dancing on air" is the only adequate description. It's hard to imagine that individuals of my age and even younger are able to perform to such a professional standard, and I can only look forward to hearing more about the musical futures of these young stars.
Top Hat is a musical that will have you feeling part of the glitz and the glamour, admiring the wonderful talent, and above all- wishing that you were drinking pink champagne in Venice.