You can’t go wrong with classic musical theatre in my opinion, and as far as classics go, Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre does not disappoint. A cute story of love and mistaken identity, no body will be surprised to know that there is of course, a happy ending. As the lights go down, the audience is treated to an overture full of familiar songs that get the toes tapping. As the curtain goes up, the ensemble makes a strong impression with a clean, polished tap routine. As a tap dancer myself, my eyes were glued to their feet with pleasure. The ensemble throughout are vibrant, enthusiastic and pull focus at various times with neat comic timing and amusing interjections. Their dancing is slick and delightful, choreographed to perfection by Bill Deamer.
Only a small proportion of the audience applauded Tom Chambers’ first step on stage, reminding me that, although trained at Guildford School of Acting, he is probably more well known for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing than he is a stage actor. Playing Jerry Travers, Broadway star trying his luck across the pond in London, on first appearance Chambers carries the part tentatively but with charm. His vocals are not those of your usual West End leading man however they suit the character well and do not appear to be terribly sub-standard. His accent however is not consistent and noticeably wavers during the show. That aside, Chambers’ dancing is energetic and clearly enjoyed with every fibre of his being. The training undoubtedly taken from Hs time on Strictly Come Dancing shows through in his elegance and lines, but he occasionally has a tendency to become a little messy and unfinished. When partnered with Summer Strallen, who takes the role of the coquettish Dale Tremont, he becomes the strong male lead that isn’t always shown off when on his own, and while his tap dancing is impressive, it is overshadowed by the talents of the ensemble. Chambers does give a good performance in Top Hat, however there was something just slightly lacking throughout.
In stark contrast to my slight hesitations regarding Tom Chambers, I cannot begin to express how impressed I was by Summer Strallen. Taking the stage with ease, she exudes every bit the leading lady title that she has established for herself. Her dancing is flawless and she performs each step with such style that it almost looks as though she needn’t try. Although her partnering with Chambers is beautiful and they are a well-matched couple, she really shines in her solo number ‘You’re Easy to Dance With’. Vocally she is sublime with a very clean pure voice that flows through her range with no difficulty. What pleased me the most about Strallen’s performance, aside from her dancing, is that she played the part of Dale Tremont in a wonderful genuine way. Whereas Chambers occasionally used over-exaggerated facial expressions, Strallen remained more truthful to the character and attracted more attention with just the slight rolling of the eye or wry smile. She really is a pleasure to watch on stage.
There is a good amount of comedy in Top Hat, which I wasn’t expecting, and it produced some genuine belly-laughs from the whole audience. Vivian Parry as the money-loving, husband-loathing Madge Hardwick, Ricardo Afonso as the love struck Alberto Beddini and Stephen Boswell as the long suffering Bates all possess terrific comic timing and have perfected the comic elements wonderfully. Top Hat therefore remains on the right side of pantomime or farce and is delightful to watch.
Gradually climbing higher on my list of ‘ones to watch’, Top Hat is a show full of class, comedy and catchy tunes. Go for the charm of Chambers, the sublime Strallen and the energy of the ensemble. It is a delightful evening out and I would recommend it to anyone!
Jerry Travers – Tom Chambers
Dale Tremont – Summer Strallen
Top Hat Review by Natasha Wynn
Sunday 7th October 2012