Get ready to put on the ritz as Top Hat injects some old-fashioned glamour to the North East stage. Katy Wheeler speaks to the show’s leading lady about Fred Astaire, feathers and fancy footwork.
Hats off to Charlotte Gooch – stepping into the sparkly shoes of Ginger Rogers is no mean feat.
Along with partner Fred Astaire, Rogers revolutionised dance and became one half of history’s most dynamic and recognisable dance duos.
Decades later their twinkle-toed legacy is still shining brightly. Never more so than in Top Hat the musical, which is based on Astaire and Rogers’s most successful film.
Now Charlotte and dance partner Alan Burkitt are bringing the Golden Age of Hollywood to the North East in a touring production of the show.
Though the musical itself is relatively new – it premiered in the West End in 2012 where it went on to play more than 600 performances – it’s already racked up three Olivier Awards, for Best New Musical, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design and the Evening Standard Award for Best Night Out.
Charlotte says waltzing into the role of Dale Tremont has been a challenge she’s relished. “I watched Top Hat and a lot of other Astaire and Rogers films. It’s such a specific style of dance and the accent is stylised and heightened. They’re such icons and a well-loved dance pair, you could never fill their shoes, but you want to do them justice.” She added: “Alan, who plays the male lead, is a good friend of mine and we naturally get on. There is a lot of rehearsing, but we get on like a house on fire and I think that comes across in the chemistry on stage. The choreography isn’t simple, there’s a lot of hours, a lot of sweat and a lot of poorly toes.”
Based on the 1935 film of the same name, and packed full of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits, Top Hat tells the story of Jerry Travers, a famous American tap dancer who arrives in London to appear in his first West End show.
Travers meets the irresistible Dale Tremont, the girl of his dreams, and follows her across Europe in an attempt to win her heart. The result is an uplifting romantic comedy celebrating 1930s song, style and romance.
Alan Burkitt – winner of All England Tap Dancer of the Year award – and Charlotte are both returning to the leading roles, having previously performed them in the West End.
Irving Berlin classics from the movie such as Cheek to Cheek, Isn’t It a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain and Top Hat, White Tie and Tails all feature in the show, as well as additions from Irving Berlin’s 1,200-strong back catalogue, including Let’s Face the Music and Dance and Puttin’ On the Ritz.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, Top Hat was the most successful picture of the nine movies Astaire and Rogers made together.
It premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in 1935 where it broke all box office records.
Within a few weeks, all five songs from the film occupied the top five places on the American Hit Parade. It is still widely regarded as one of the greatest dance musicals of all time.
Charlotte, who is returning to Newcastle’s Theatre Royal after last performing there as Penny Johnson in Dirty Dancing, said: “It’s a classic tale of a couple falling in love and how a case of mistaken identity gets in the way of that.
“Then you have these beautiful songs such as Cheek to Cheek, Putting on the Ritz and Top Hat, as well as stunning costumes. It’s a real feel-good musical.
“There are the original songs from the film, as well as others from Irving Berlin’s catalogue and other Astaire and Rogers films. Putting on the Ritz is a song from 16 years after Top Hat, but it’s so well loved and it really fits.”
Speaking about why the film is so beloved, she said: “I thinks there’s a lot of different factors that made that film so successful, Top Hat as a story is so well-loved, it has a couple falling in love and comedy.
“Then there’s the feather dress and the story behind it, how the feathers went everywhere and he didn’t want her to wear it, but she insisted. It helped to establish them as a couple.
“There are so many favourite moments for me, but Cheek to Cheek in the feather dress is one of them. The choreography is so beautiful, it’s such a joy to be a part of.”
The show features 200 lavish costumes, which help the cast to shimmer on stage.
“All the girls say they were born in the wrong era as we’d love to wear outfits like this all the time, but at least we get to wear them in the show, ” added Charlotte.
*Top Hat is at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal from September 9-20. Tickets are priced from £18 (a booking fee of 95p-£1.95 will apply to most tickets) and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 112121 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.
*We’ve teamed up with Theatre Royal to give away a pair of tickets to Top Hat on September 9, as well as a CD of its music. To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: which of these is an Irving Berlin track?
A) Cheek to Cheek
B) Hand to Hand
C) Back to Back
Email your answer with your contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk. Closing date: September 4.