Wednesday saw the gala opening night of Top Hat on the West End following the show’s critically acclaimed tour across theatres nationwide.
A theatrical adaption of Irving Berlin’s 1935 RKO film musical classic starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, Top Hat is surprisingly, the first musical featuring Berlin’s music to make the transition to the stage.
The show features songs from the original film’s soundtrack, such as Cheek to Cheek and Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, and specially selected numbers taken from the composer’s prolific output, including Let’s Face the Music and Dance and Puttin’ On the Ritz.
A matching songbook has also been released to accompany the West End show’s launch featuring the music of Top Hat arranged for piano, voice and guitar, along with a full-colour eight page photo section of exclusive stills from the show.
Berlin’s daughters attended the Top Hat’s debut at the Aldwych Theatre, London. They had given their permission for their father’s music to be used in the production.
Ava Astaire McKenzie, daughter of Fred Astaire, was also in attendance, casting her eye over Tom Chambers, who reprises the role made famous by her father.
Chambers, the 2008 champion of Strictly Come Dancing, plays Jerry Travers in the show—a famed American dancer brought to the UK stage by a wealthy businessman. Ms Astaire McKenzie described the Strictly Winner’s performance as “wonderful. There will always be comparisons, but what this show has done is bring a version to the world to see for the future.”
Chambers told the BBC he felt “honoured” that the daughter of Fred Astaire was in attendance for his West End debut as Travers. He added that it was only “one degree of separation from the man himself. It’s the biggest honour you could give to someone.”
“I was able to touch the very ring that he wore in the 1935 film that she now wears – so I hope if he’s watching down from somewhere he’s not cursing – he’s saying ‘you did good, you’re entertaining people’.”
“You don’t mess with Fred Astaire. You know it’s going to be impossible to emulate him. I hope the audience think I’m not miles off the mark.”
The opening night didn’t quite go off without a hitch, although Chambers laughed off the moment he dropped his cane during the big dance number Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.
“It’s typical that on your debut West End show something is bound to go wrong, especially when you are doing tricks with canes.”
“Luckily, it looked like I’d thrown it into the pit on purpose, though it did hit Bryony the cellist.”
Summer Strallen stars as Dale Tremont, the female lead originally portrayed by Ginger Rodgers. On taking on such a famous role, she said: “I wouldn’t dream of saying I was a patch on Ginger Rogers. I would love to be. That’s what I aspire to do, and if I even come close I’d be happy.”
Top Hat runs at the Aldwych Theatre until January 26 2013.
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