TOP HAT (Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by Matthew White and Howard Jacques)
Abingdon Operatic Society
Amey Theatre, Abingdon School, Abingdon, OX14 1DE
23-27 October 2018
There are no two ways about it, Abingdon Operatic Society's latest production Top Hat is excellent and provided us all with a cracking evening's entertainment.
Based closely on the 1935 movie starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat the stage musical boasts a wealth of fine musical numbers written by Irving Berlin, including Puttin' on the Ritz, I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket, Cheek to Cheek, Let's Face the Music and Dance and of course Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.
The plot is a light romance based on mistaken identity where a series of misunderstandings make it seem as though the boy and the girl will never get together. They do of course, eventually. We always knew they would, but it's the journey that's the enjoyable part. Along the way we are treated to some terrific song and dance numbers interspersed with comedy.
It was the dancing, not just of the principals, but of the company, that impressed and delighted me most about this production. Full marks go to choreographer Judy Tompsett for giving us tap dancing of such a high standard. In a memorable evening, stand-out routines included Top Hat, White Tie and Tails and The Piccolino. The latter a complex multi-part set, staged in a hotel courtyard in Venice.
Musical director David Hebden also deserves praise for drawing out some wonderful performances from the cast and the orchestra.
Director Andrew Walter had a strong cast of principals at his disposal. Tom Draper-Rodi as a cheeky and impudent Jerry Travers brought a sparky brilliance to his dancing which matched his wonderful singing voice. From Kerry Callaghan as Dale Tremont we had the Hollywood romantic heroine, frustrated and outraged by Travers' apparently appalling behaviour. The glamour was spot-on, as was Kerry's singing and dancing. My favourite was Rob Bertwistle's Horace Hardwick. This is a gift of a comedy role that sees Horace sparring, first with his friend Jerry Travers, and later with his wife Madge (a feisty, funny performance to relish from Ann Turton). Rob's characterisation and comic timing were expertly delivered and he clearly had a lot of fun with the part. Iain Launchbury drew laughter from the audience for his set-piece musical number Latins Know How, as Italian costume designer Alberto Beddini. Top marks for creative use of Italian tricolour boxer shorts. But Iain's portrayal of this larger-than-life comedic character was strong throughout. In the programme notes, Kevin Pope, playing Jerry's butler Bates, hints at a slight reticence in taking on a non-singing role for the first time. He need have nothing to regret. This was one of those smaller parts that just grow with time until the audience is drooling with anticipation each time he appears. Kevin's dry, sardonic delivery was just what was needed. The audience's applause at the curtain call spoke volumes.
Stuart Beesley deserves praise for his lighting design which enhanced the glamour of the production and Andrew Walter's set design. Well done also to Joy Skeels for co-ordinating some terrific costumes – it must have been fun.
This was a production which provided a brilliant evening's entertainment, full of musical lollipops and some of the best dancing that I've seen so far in an amateur production. The audience billed and cooed their way out of the Amey Theatre afterwards.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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