What a gal! Quentin Letts is bowled over by the leggy lovely who sashays into Ginger Rogers' shoes in Top Hat


TOP HAT (Aldwych Theatre)

Verdict: You'll be longing for summer

Rating: 4 Star Rating

Watching a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film in the early Seventies, I discovered my sexuality (as we modern men say).

Miss Rogers, mid some song, climbed on to a bicycle and I’m afraid I was never quite the same again. Fred could dance, but Ginger took the biscuit.

It is the same all over again with the West End’s lavish new production of the Irving Berlin classic Top Hat, which starred Astaire and Rogers in 1935. 

Dance stars: Tom Chambers as Jerry Travers and Summer Strallen as Dale Tremont in Top Hat Aldwych Theatre

Dance stars: Tom Chambers as Jerry Travers and Summer Strallen as Dale Tremont in Top Hat Aldwych Theatre

Originals: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their liveliest in the classic 1935 film Top Hat

Originals: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their liveliest in the classic 1935 film Top Hat

Male lead Tom Chambers, of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing fame, is fine. The voice is a bit iffy but he moves with liquid grace.

The leading lady, however, is a knockout. Summer Strallen is a legs-to-armpits, snub-nosed, blonde-maned, high-hoofing, lip-biting warbler. She, along with Berlin’s gorgeous songs, makes the night.

It opens with a chorus line of girls wielding canes. Max Mosley would be in his element. They whack the floor to create a beat. In the middle, wearing liquorice-striped trousers, glides Mr Chambers as Jerry Travers.

Suave charmer Jerry is a star of musicals. He arrives in London and meets ice-maiden Dale Tremont (Miss Strallen).

The more she ignores him, the crazier he becomes. Director Matthew White cleverly gives us a scene with a hansom cab — and later one in an aeroplane — thanks to multi-height screens.

Curtain Call - Summer Strallen and Tom Chambers
Curtain Call - Summer Strallen and Tom Chambers

Leading lady: Summer Strallen makes the night with her long legs and flowing dance moves

One the crowds will love: Top Hat is tuneful escapism with classic numbers

One the crowds will love: Top Hat is tuneful escapism with classic numbers to sing along to

Despite the big opening number, the first half is occasionally slow going, mainly because it is over-freighted by lame jokes, a tiresome stage-Italian and an even more irritating butler.

Classic tunes such as Puttin’ On The Ritz and Isn’t This A Lovely Day? retain one’s loyalty.

Dramatically, things achieve lift-off in the second half with the arrival of Vivien Parry playing sharp trout Madge, wife of Jerry’s producer Horace (likeable Martin Ball, who is a ringer for the late Peter Shore MP).

Madge’s wisecracks may not be particularly original — ‘you take your men as you find them’ . . . pause . . . ‘if you can find them’ — but Miss Parry delivers them with husky aplomb.

Dale to Madge: ‘Is your husband hard to please?’ Madge: ‘I don’t know. I’ve never tried.’ The butler (Stephen Boswell) starts to amuse, particularly when he assumes numerous disguises.

Asked by a restaurant diner: ‘What is this fly doing in my gelato?’ he replies: ‘Tobogganing.’ Old as the Dolomites, I know, but it still made me laugh.

The stage-Italian (Ricardo Afonso) has a comedy show-stopper with Latins Know How, in which he strips to his smalls while ruminating on Italian men’s love-making prowess.

As each button is undone, the band’s percussion section pings a tin. And then comes the greatest song of them all, Cheek To Cheek, for which Miss Strallen wears a feathered pale-pink dress which floats as she flies through the air.

At the end of this number, Jerry tells Dale she is a reasonable dancer. She is given the great Ginger Rogers line: ‘I just did everything you did, backwards, in heels.’

The one thing that continued to prey on my mind was the connection between Mr Chambers and Miss Strallen. As chemistry goes, it’s sub-GCSE level.

Perhaps they will warm up during the run. Perhaps they should go and get sozzled together in some romantic bistro. That reservation aside, Top Hat is delicious, tuneful escapism. I suspect you will love it.

tophat.jpg




The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now