Its always a thrill to see a classic film musical brought to life on the stage. In the case of Newport-based theatre company Centrestage Cymru, White Christmas, Singin’ in the Rain and 42nd Street have all successfully been added to the company’s existing portfolio of stage successes.
This week, Centrestage Cymru returned to the fore once again under the direction of choreographer Sharon Higgins to present the stage version of the 1935 screwball comedy film musical Top Hat.
If like me, you grew up catching the original Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film on occasional Saturday afternoon matinees on BBC2, you will remember that its high on showcasing the very best of Irving Berlin’s music through song and dance while remaining a solid period piece. Top Hat also reflects the art-deco and costume styles that attempted to bring some fun and glamour into the 1930s, an era that was suffering from The Great Depression.
Top Hat is an upbeat and glamorous affair from start to finish. In 2018, its story of show-business, love and farcical mistaken identity mixed in with song and dance remains refreshing to watch and j as it was intended in the 1930s, remains pure escapism.
Unlike Fred Astaire’s 1935 film, Centrestage Cymru’s version has the advantage of colour too, something which brings the production to life. The story line slides to perfection, under the stage direction of Peter Higgins, through a variety of identifiable and exotic locations from New York’s Music Box Theatre to London’s Thackeray Club, via a wet London Park and the plush Hotel Excelsior to Venice’s sun-kissed Hotel Venezia (via airplane).
The core of the production is Sharon Higgins multi-layered choreography. Top Hat is essentially a busy story line, requiring lots of dancers and on-stage extras. Behind the core cast there is much going on and while never interfering with the main plot, each ensemble cast member keeps the wheels and cogs of the plot turning, be it from a dancing porter, hotel receptionist or cockney flower sellers.
The dance sequences themselves are also multi-layered. Performing to the live music (under the direction of Victoria Bryant), the dancers display the very best in tap with Puttin’ On The Ritz and Top Hat, White Tie and Tails led by the inimitable Jordan Archer as Jerry Travers.
Jordan’s Jerry Travers, is frequently called upon to sing and dance from the shows opening moments to its spectacular conclusion. Full of adrenaline, he jumps from one energetic scenario to the next, be it to woo his leading lady to the tune of I’m Placing All My Eggs In One Basket on a horse carriage to singing and dancing No Strings with chamber maids and a hat stand in the Hotel Excelsior. All this and occasionally he gets slapped across the face too – the definitive romantic lead!
Becci Jarvis mesmerises as leading lady Dale Tremont. Its been a privilege to watch Becci grow as an actress, singer and dancer over the years and she has undoubtedly become one of the shining lights of the Newport’s musical theatre scene. As Dale, she keeps the characters dramatic angst in check while enabling her to breeze in and out of dance scenes with confidence. Becci’s dance routine with Chris Davies as the comical Porter in You’re Easy To Dance With is pure Hollywood Magic on the stage and completely flawless.
Joseph Gibson is theatre impresario Horace Hardwick, the original English upper-crust twit. Hardwick is frequently down trodden by his wife Madge (of whom Michelle Meano delivers a suitably feisty portrayal) but revels in his superiority over his man-servant, Bates (played by Luke Palfrey). Joseph’s comic timing and fast delivery is essential to the fun of Top Hat and frequently brings laughter to the proceedings. Joseph shines once again towards the shows climax when both he and Michelle Meano evolve their characters feuding into a fun duet, Outside Of That, I Love You.
Jordan Leigh, as smooth Latin clothes designer Alberto Beddini also provides several comic interludes delivered with a wonderfully camp twist. From his confrontation with Hardwick to declaring his love for Dale, Jordan as Alberto s a pure joy to watch, while never failing to raise a smile. In his own solo number, Latino Know How, he provides one of the shows most memorable moments by strip teasing to his undergarments before performing a split, which raises laughs and admiration from the audience.
As ever with a Centrestage Cymru show it seems unfair to cherry pick such a talented ensemble cast. There were many cast members, be they leads, support, singers or dancers that made the hairs on my back stand on end with admiration and nostalgia. Seeing and hearing songs such as Cheek To Cheek and Lets Face The Music And Dance is pure magic and that’s down to the perfection of a finely tuned performance. My only criticism is that I cant sit down and watch this wonderful production again and again. That is the combined beauty and rub with live theatre. The memory of it is just as glorious as when you sit there and watch it live.
There is one consoling factor, Centrestage Cymru did Fred and Ginger proud and they’ll be back later this year with Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita!