Top Hat, 5 Stars

Top Hat
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
13th Dec 2017 to 28th Jan 2018

“Ovation is delighted to present the London fringe premiere of Top Hat. An all singing, all dancing
musical theatre classic packed full of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits including ‘Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Let’s
Face the Music & Dance’, ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ and the title song. The show is a wonderfully
entertaining story wrapped around Irving Berlin’s magical score. Celebrating the best of 1930s, Top
Hat tells the story of Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the
heart of society girl Dale in a riotous mistaken-identity plot.”

Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Based on RKO’s Motion Picture
Book by Matthew White & Howard Jaques
Presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe

Director: John Plews
Musical Director: Charlie Ingles
Choreographer: Chris Whittaker
Designer: Emily Bestow
Lighting Design: Sam Waddington
Sound Design: Nico Menghini
Costume Supervisor: Joseph Hodges
Musical Supervisor:  Dan Glover
Casting: Debbie O’Brien
Producer: Katie Plews for Ovation

Review by Richard Lambert, 5 Stars

Based on the 1935 film of the same name Top Hat the musical version has only been with us since it’s premiere in 2011. Yet it feels like it’s been with us for much longer! Having toured the UK and exhausted the main touring houses how fortunate that it’s now available for licensing in fringe venues. Upstairs at the Gatehouse never feels like a fringe venue – it’s a high ceilinged large barn-like space that lends itself nicely to the traverse seating arrangement and larger musical.

Emily Bestow has created a magnificent Design for the show with a raised stage on multi-levels, an elevator entrance door, hidden cubby-holes stuffed with aeroplane seats, tables, beds and Reception desks. Add to this the 4 entrances and 100s of props that are paraded throughout the show and you’d be forgiven for wondering how it all got put together. Applaud the Cast for their memory skills for what should be where and when, and where did I last hide it. All in the expert hands of John Plews – who’s worked in theatre for centuries! An experienced solid Director who clearly had a lot to organise!

With such well known songs such as Putting on the Ritz, Cheek to Cheek and Let’s Face the Music and Dance the show is a hit even though the plot is so thin as to be almost invisible. The singing is exceptional with this very well cast ensemble and the dancing is true to form Ginger/Astaire-esque with some lovely old-school choreography from Chris Whittaker. Joanne Clifton and Ellen Verenieks adding the grace and wow factor to the leading ladies. Both showing perfect poise and characterisations through their dancing.

The Costumes – how does a smaller theatre find the budget to put on a show like Top Hat? You know the costumes have to be period, and the dance numbers need costume sets that range from Charlestion era to Top Hat and Tails, with bling and zing throughout. Joseph Hodges has somehow managed to supply and create a dazzling array of costume sets that shimmer, sparkle and zing in every scene.

I’ve seen several shows at the Gatehouse theatre and they usually struggle with the Sound Amplification system. Not this time, Nico Menghini has cracked it! Amazing Sound quality throughout that doesn’t sound false or intrusive – tricky when you’re so close to the actors and can hear them directly along with the mic’d sound coming from the venue speakers. The Sound mix on this show is perfect!

None of this glorious production matters at all if you can’t see it. Lighting a stage that has length but limited depth and then placing the audience either side like a fashion show adds challenges for any lighting designer. The audience have such variant perspectives of the performance. But Sam Waddington has nailed it! With the lights hung in mirror formation and additional specials for the architectural features and occasional unusually placed performers the lighting ebbs and flows with the music and action and guides us nicely along through all the different locations the show demands. Never missing the musical nuances or the costume bling Sam shows an experienced hand on the lighting with some lovely pictures created.

With so much choice in London for Theatre shows I always feel it’s a shame that the tourists only see adverts for the larger West End shows and therefore miss the opportunity to see something wonderful in the smaller theatres. Ovation’s Top Hat is a much more affordable and in many ways much more enjoyable production – but one that’s likely to only be seen by London based theatre-goers who keep an eye on what’s going on. Treat yourself to a wonderful sparkly night out!

(Photo Credit: Darren Bell)

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