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Posts Tagged ‘irving berlin’

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For anyone who doesn’t know the story of Top Hat, it centres on Broadway sensation Jerry Travers, who falls hard for society girl Dale Tremont, and dances his way from Broadway to London to Venice in order to win her heart. A case of mistaken identity causes all sorts of problems, but there is so much fun to be had on the way.

Having seen and loved the 1935 film, and also seen the West End stage show production (on tour), I can safely say that this is one of my favourite musicals, because it’s impossible to watch it and not feel happy. The songs will make you smile, the storyline is both romantic and extremely funny, and the dancing is spectacular.

All of this means that it is no mean feat for an amateur dramatics company to take on, but South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have taken on many such productions in their long history and are never found wanting.

Watching it, I was mesmerised by Harry Simkin and Fiona Winning, who played Jerry and Dale (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers famously played the roles in the film, and Tom Chambers debuted the role of Jerry when it was made into a stage musical). Simkin and Winning are 17 and 16 respectively, but you would think they had been singing and dancing for decades, such was their professionalism and obvious talent. I really felt as if I was watching two future stars.

Also must mention Dom Napier as Alberto Beddini, the wannabe rival for Dale’s heart, and John Wiley who played footman Bates. Both of these were in danger of stealing their scenes, and raised some huge laughs from the audience.

Overall, a wonderful show and another feather in the cap for the South Staffs Musical Theatre Company.

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Top Hat is probably the best loved of all the Astaire and Rogers musicals.  In this fabulous production, the story, and the 30s era are brought vividly to life by a terrific cast, in a whirl of lovely songs courtesy of Irving Berlin, some mesmerising dancing, beautiful costumes and lots of laughs.

The story revolves around American Broadway star Jerry Travers (here by played by Alan Burkitt), who comes to England to star in a new show, and falls for society girl Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch).  However, in a comedic case of mistaken identity, Dale believes that Jerry is Horace Hardwick, Jerry’s producer and the husband of her friend Madge Hardwich, which causes complications in their budding romance.

I can’t say enough good things about this show.  After a successful run in the West End, it is now on tour and delighting audiences around the country.  The two leads were both excellent.  Alan Burkitt was a sensation as Jerry – his dancing was flawless and a marvel to watch.  His singing also suited the songs wonderfully.  Charlotte Gooch matched him as Dale, looking and sounding gorgeous, and with some amazing dance moves of her own.

The show is packed with familiar songs, such as Puttin’ on the Ritz, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and Cheek to Cheek.  The supporting cast were all terrific, with special mentions for Clive Hayward and Rebecca Thornhill as Horace and Madge, John Conroy as Horace’s Butler Bates, and Sebastien Torkia as Alberto Beddini, a clothes designer who is also in love with Dale.  As well as the music and dancing, there was also a lot of humour, and the costumes were so glamorous – a real feast for the eyes.

In short, if you like musical theatre, then you absolutely should see this show.  It’s beautifully and imaginatively staged, and each performance was superb.  If I sound like I’m gushing, that’s because I am.  I’d highly recommend this show, and am already determined to buy tickets to see it later on its tour.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1935 film.

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This 1954 musical tells the story of the Donahues – a family who perform in vaudeville shows.  There’s the mother Molly (Ethel Merman), the father Terence (Dan Dailey) and their three children Steven (Johnnie Ray), Katy (Mitzi Gaynor) and Tim (Donald O’Connor).  Problems arise when Steven reveals his plans for a surprising career change, and Tim falls for aspiring singer Vicky (Marilyn Monroe).

The storyline is entertaining enough, but it’s really just a vehicle to showcase some fantastic songs (Irving Berlin wrote the songs) and some terrific and humorous dancing.  However, the film is no less enjoyable for all that.  Ethel Merman very nearly steals the show as Molly.  Marilyn looks stunning and totally sizzles when she’s singing, particularly in the ‘Heatwave’ number (goodness knows how that got past the censors in the 1950s).  Equally gorgeous is Mitzi Gaynor, who does some brilliant dancing.  Donald O’Connor is funny and sweet, and his dancing, as seen two years earlier in Singin’ In The Rain, is great.  He has a very enjoyable solo number A Man Chases A Girl (Until She Catches Him).  I also particularly liked the aforementioned Heatwave, and the whole Alexander’s Ragtime Band Sequence, which involved numerous dancers, several outfit changes, and the chance for each family member to shine.

The only weak spot in the film was Johnnie Ray, who quite frankly could not act his way out of a paper bag.  I can only assume that he was picked for the role for his singing ability (he was after all a singer, not an actor), but he was badly miscast, to the point where it almost felt embarrassing watching him on screen.  It’s fortunate that he had only a relatively small part, so it didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of the film as a whole.

The film was not without it’s off-screen problems.  Donald O’Connor had recently separated from his wife of 10 years when he filmed this – and his estranged wife was dating Dan Dailey, who played the father of the Donahue family (Dailey subsequently married her).  Marilyn did not actually want to do the film, and was only persuaded to do so when she was told that she could have the lead in The Seven Year Itch, if she did this film.

For all it’s off-screen problems though, it’s a very entertaining and colourful film (much of it is performed on a stage setting with eye catching costumes); some might even say gaudy.  It’s over the top in places, and the storyline is fairly thin.  But – none of that matters, because it’s also a feel-good movie, with plenty of laughs, and  some hugely enjoyable songs and dances.  Definitely worth catching if you’re a fan of musicals, or of any of the actors.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Walter Lang

Writers: Phoebe Ephron, Henry Ephron, Lamar Trotti

Main cast: Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Dan Dailey

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