Top Hat offers sizzling music and awesome choreography at the Congress Theatre

Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch in Top Hat. Picture by Max Lacome
Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch in Top Hat. Picture by Max Lacome

Five-star musical Top Hat arrives in Eastbourne shortly (opening on Tuesday, July 21) as one of the jewels in this season’s Congress crown.

Earlier in the show’s tour, Sussex Express reviewer Kevin Anderson caught up with principals Charlotte Gooch and Alan Burkitt.

With a heap of best-in-everything West End awards, Top Hat has taken its sizzling music and awesome choreography on the road, led from the front by the energetic – and utterly engaging – Gooch and Burkitt.

Granting me half an hour in their dressing room at Bromley, they visibly enthuse at the challenge of re-creating the iconic Astaire and Rogers roles.

“We both grew up watching all the Fred and Ginger stuff and adoring it,” says Charlotte. “So it was a dream come true, really, to bring it to life on stage. In many ways we are true to the original film, but this of course is our own take on the roles.”

Alan agrees: “The director didn’t want us to be just an imitation Fred and Ginger. We do keep the period, the attention to detail, the style. But we have our own partnership and we try to make that work with each fresh performance.”

Just a few years into their performing careers, this must be the highlight so far?

“They are dream roles,” admits Charlotte. “Especially, they allow us both to sing, dance and act to our highest ability, all in the same show.”

I wonder where they summon their energy.

“Well yes, we always say the show is like a swan – gliding effortlessly on stage but paddling frantically underneath! The costume changes can be as madcap as the on-stage action.” Charlotte pauses briefly to pose with that iconic goose-feathers dress, and Alan adds wryly: “It’s the things you don’t see. We even have our tap-shoes mic’ed with gaffer-tape!”

“But in our profession we are always grateful for the work,” adds Alan with needless modesty. “It’s a privilege and we’re thrilled to be performing for live audiences.”

The UK tour actually ends in Eastbourne, before a month in Japan – and then?

“Who knows? Another round of auditions. On stage one week, maybe on the check-outs the next!”

A favourite number? The reply is instant and in unison.

“It has to be Cheek to Cheek. It’s just gorgeous choreography, and when you’re reaching for the extra energy to get through these big epic dance routines, a number like Cheek to Cheek actually just lifts you and carries you through.”

The pair have been as gracious off-stage as they are graceful on it. The dressers bustle in, we slip out and take our seats for a full-house matinee. And phew, it’s just talent on legs. The perfect period set sparkles, the music is magnificent and the dancers absolutely dazzle.

Burkitt really has the stylish posture and assured mannerisms of Astaire, and Gooch has breath-taking movement and the voice of an angel.

There is humour – both in the acting and in a reel of cracking one-liners worthy of the Marx Brothers. As with most musicals, you’ll need to forgive the silly plot, but it’s really only a vehicle for a sequence of fabulous songs and dance numbers. The performers, as Charlotte suggested, may be concentrating furiously on the inside, but their performance is explosive and exuberant. The pace and discipline of the ensemble tap numbers is close to unbelievable.

Back on the check-outs? I doubt it. These two are super-talented and the casting directors will be biting their hands off. But if Alan and Charlotte do happen to find themselves briefly ‘resting’, and they fetch up at your local supermarket, you can bet they will scan all your items through in breezy two-part harmony, and then escort your trolley to the car park with a scintillating improvised dance routine…

Visit www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk or www.tophatonstage.com to find out more.

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