Irving Berlin’s Top Hat has been around longer than most of us have been alive, in the form of a movie that is. It would take over seven decades for a stage version to premiere in 2011 at the Milton Keynes theatre before transferring to the West End and embarking on a tour. Following a successful run last Christmas, The Mill at Sonning’s production returns for a second festive season, bringing the razzle-dazzle of New York, London and Venice to the Berkshire village.
The film version only had a handful of songs, so the stage version chooses wisely from Berlin’s extensive catalogue to make this into a full blown musical. ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ introduces us to Jerry Travers (Jonny Labey); the Broadway sensation about to debut in the West End thanks to producer Horace Hardwick (Paul Kemble).
Arriving in London, Jerry immediately falls for Dale Tremont (Billie-Kay), but an unfortunate case of mistaken identity means that the course of true love doesn’t exactly run smoothly. The plot couldn’t really be described as plausible in any real sense, but who cares? This show is absolute dynamite.
Top Hat, even in the relatively small Mill at Sonning auditorium, is a big-scale song and dance extravaganza. Incredible tap routines from choreographer Ashley Nottingham keep the audience entranced as the talented cast work their way through some of Berlin’s most famous tunes.
Jason Denvir’s set design is chic art deco in gorgeous pastels, with real attention to detail built in. This one set manages to span three countries, and has some nifty ways of taking us to various locations, such as the hotel room numbers projected on to the floor, or an LCD used to create an elevator.
As Jerry Travers, Jonny Labey leads the cast with effortless charm. Labey’s skills as a dancer and singer are on full display for a full-on performance that never wavers. Demonstrating equal talent is Billie-Kay as Dale Tremont, confidently navigating the character’s balance of vigour and vulnerability.
Co-writers of Top Hat for the stage, Howard Jaques and Matthew White, have retained the wittiness of the film, with Bates (Brendan Cull) and Beddini (Andy Rees) providing some of the more memorable comic moments. When you’re not laughing, you’ll find yourself amazed by the rich vibrancy of the costumes designed by Natalie Titchener.
Harnessing all this creative prowess is director Jonathan O’Boyle, who makes this production of Top Hat a joyous spectacle, utilising as much of the space as possible, the audience finding themselves practically cheek to cheek with many of the talented cast.
If the show on its own isn’t enough to make this a memorable trip to the theatre, you also have the beautiful venue, with the ticket price including a two-course meal. It’s certainly a welcoming and comfortable theatre-going experience, made all the more special by Top Hat’s top rate production values.
Top Hat is at The Mill at Sonning until 30th December.