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Review: Top Hat at Newcastle Theatre Royal until September 20

The old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers vehicle works its slickly choreographed magic on 21st Century audiences

*****
MAX LACOME - MAXLACOME.COM Top Hat the musical
Top Hat the musical

This is a show with the appeal and consistency of a meringue – and no doubt the people who sweat over the egg whisks will retort that the secret of creating such a sweet and airy confection is hard labour.

A delayed start and a sudden pause due to a “technical hitch” suggested a few first night teething problems on Grey Street.

They hinted also at the physical exertion that lies behind a show like Top Hat.

The sets, the costumes, Irving Berlin’s music and the wonderful, meticulously executed tap dance routines all scream of effortless panache – while common sense tells you they’re nothing of the sort.

The rehearsal photos in the programme show a little of the process. Behind the guys in their toppers and tails and the girls in their 30s glam evidently lay long hours in the gym.

You can imagine the director (Matthew White who is also credited as co-adaptor) barking: “Right, you’re not leaving here until you can do all of that – and smile!”

There’s a lot of smiling in Top Hat. It’s a feelgood show with a tissue paper plot and lots of droll one-liners to keep us happy between the showstopping dance numbers.

The Berlin numbers, driven by a snappy little orchestra in the pit, include Cheek to Cheek, Puttin’ On The Ritz and the brilliant Let’s Face the Music and Dance – all likely to be familiar to people who don’t know the show and have never even seen the film.

MAX LACOME - MAXLACOME.COM Top Hat the musical
Top Hat the musical
 

Clive Hayward’s frazzled producer, Horace Hardwick, is putting on a new West End show and the star is to be American dancer Jerry Travers, a big thing on Broadway.

In real life you’d probably want to thump Jerry. He takes his work home with him, constantly hopping about in noisy shoes, and he doesn’t have a serious bone in his body.

When his night-time tapping annoys the hotel guest downstairs, glamorous and frosty Dale Tremont, poor Horace’s headaches multiply.

But Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch are perfect for the parts of the star-crossed lovers who are thwarted by a very silly misunderstanding.

It goes without saying that they dance brilliantly – everyone does – but they convey a period charm to complement the splendour of the sets (even if, on opening night, the sky over Venice looked mysteriously creased).

The cast seems to have as much fun as the audience with Horace’s domineering wife Madge played with panache by Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia hamming it up outrageously in a role that makes it excusable – that of fashion designer Alberto Beddini, a cliched representation of the so-called Latin temperament.

The show’s a winner already and it can only get slicker over its two-week run.

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