Posts Tagged ‘summer strallen’

Review – Top Hat (the musical, not the movie) – Milton Keynes (transferred to the Aldwych – was Birmingham Hippodrome, Southampton Mayflower, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Leeds Grand etc.)

September 2, 2011

UPDATE: Top Hat has now transferred to the Aldwych Theater, but according to The West End Whingers, my review seems pretty sound still – though you may prefer to read theirs. (The following review is from August, 2011.)

There’s been only one musical on my mind this summer – Top Hat, a brand new staging of a musical that’s previously only existed on the silver screen. For me, it was the chance to see my idol Summer Strallen in a part that actually took advantage of her triple-threat talents that I’d last seen put to their full use in Drowsy Chaperone. A dancing role previously held down by Ginger Rogers? Sign me up! Summer seemed like the perfect person for the role. Even better, there was a whole plate full of Irving Berlin songs fleshing out the original five. Sadly, though there wasn’t a London date in sight, so I was stuck going to Milton Keynes to get my fix – but, hey, nothing like seeing a show early in its run to put you ahead of the blogging pack, right? Plus, truth be told, I just couldn’t wait. Woo hoo tap dancing on the big stage SIGN ME UP!

Now, as it turns out Milton Keynes was actually way more of a hike than I’d expected – a full hour out of London (and I live an hour south of Euston so my trip back was a real marathon) and expensive as it’s on one of those weaselly train lines that charges peak fares in the evenings as well as the mornings. But, well, the running time was short enough (just about 2:30) that I could be ensured of getting back before last train, so all is well.

I’m not familiar with the story of Top Hat, as I must have seen it well over twenty years ago, so I was pretty empty of expectations. The show starts with a lively musical number that introduces us to our lead, Jerry Travers (Tom Chambers), an American dance man whose been invited to come perform in London – the London of 1930s American musicals, which is all Cockneys and Art Deco and men in top hats, with bizarre rules about politeness and an obsession with scandal (very plus ca change in my eyes). There he winds up at a posh hotel where he just starts randomly dancing away in his room in my very favorite scene from the entire play, perfectly Fred Astaire as he danced with a hat rack, and perfectly zany as the maid and service staff joined in. It was beautifully choreographed and a real joy.

In the story arc, this dance is what provokes the meeting between Jerry and Dale Tremont (Summer Strallen) – he’s tap dancing on her ceiling, and when she comes up to complain, Jerry is instantly smitten. This leads to the rest of the silliness as former permanent bachelor Jerry chases Dale around London (most wonderfully in Hyde Park, with the number “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” and the comedy in a hansom cab) and eventually in Venice, with Dale fighting her attraction to Jerry due to a mistaken identity (she thinks he’s Horace Hardwick, the man who rented the original hotel room). Of course they wind up together in the end, and there are several more wonderful dances along the way, including the amazing one with around 16 male tap dancers, who are joined by a bunch of tuxedoed women. Wow!

Sadly, the thing that kept me from really buying this show was the lack of electricity between Jerry and Dale, which kept me from really being able to get into the rest of the show – crazy that what I came for was the dancing, but then it was the acting that frustrated me! As near as I can tell, this was probably due to a very short rehearsal time – it seemed like the background dancers had probably been working on it for ages, but the leads only got pulled in about a week before the show started. (And I saw this show AFTER press night, so no grousing about my seeing a preview, please.) I was also displeased with the costuming – while some of the outfits were great, there was a general cheapness to many of them – including the what should have been fabulous feathered dress Dale wears toward the end of act two – that made the dancers look dumpy when they should have been svelte.

Overall, this was a pleasant night, but it wasn’t the blockbuster I was hoping for. In retrospect, I much preferred Crazy for You, which had wittier dialogue and a much less wooden male lead (which I suspect was Chambers’ attempt to channel Astaire). Given a few more months on the road, I am guessing a lot of my complaints will have been taken care of, and there’s no doubt that the Milton Keynes audience ate it up – almost uniformly giving it a standing ovation. This wasn’t the American tourists screwing it up, it was English people expressing their appreciation for a show they really enjoyed. I anticipate a successful tour and I do hope that it makes a London transfer after it’s had several months to bake.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, August 25th, 2011. Top Hat will be touring the UK through December 10th, 2011.)

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Summer Strallen insulted in OK Magazine

July 10, 2008

Ever since I saw The Drowsy Chaperone, Summer Strallen has been at the top of my list of “top actresses to see in a West End musical.” The way she kicks! The way she sings! She’s the whole package, the triple threat, and she’s really a treat to see on stage. I mean, I have never seen a show twice in a week, but I went back just to see her (and because the show was closing).

Once Drowsy closed I looked around online, hoping to find news of her returning to the stage (when? where?), but I had a long wait as she’d pulled some TV work (no luck seeing her in a panto last year, boo!). Then she got the role of Maria in Sound of Music (not West Side Story, boo again), which, well, was kind of good because it put her back on stage, but also bad because, well, it’s not exactly a role requiring a lot of dancing so it’s a waste of her tremendous talent (and it’s, er, The Sound of Music, so not something I’m particularly interested in seeing).

That said, I was excited to see an article about her in trashy rag Ok Magazine (which for some reason we have a copy of in my office’s breakroom). It was “Summer in summer wear” or something fluffy like that, basically a fashion spread, with Summer looking lovely in floral frocks.

However, I found the article made OK Magazine look really bad, as the very first sentence in it is, “Going from soap actress to stage star isn’t the most likely of paths …”

WHAT??? Was that a misprint? What Summer did was go from stage star to soap actress! But no, per OK, it seems that Summer’s life began when she got a job on a TV show. There is not a word of her earlier work anywhere in the article, not even about her turn in Dick Whittington at the Barbican. Perhaps this is some kind of sop to the OK readers, whom OK assumes must not do much besides watch TV, but I found it insulting to Summer as a theater professional that OK would wipe out her entire career by pretending it all started when she got a job on a soap opera. Summer did mention that she’s not getting to do any dancing, really, in her current show, which might indicate to some that perhaps there are other talents going on besides singing and acting … perhaps a hint of an earlier life … but no, nothing. At least the pictures looked great, and Summer sounded tremendously more classy than most of the women they were featuring in the magazine, but the questions! “Are you terribly critical about your looks, what kind of wedding do you fantasize about …” What kind of airhead reads this rag anyway? I wished they’d asked her some better questions but I still felt her personality came through, and she sounded really level headed. Who knows, maybe the interviewer was unimaginative.

That said, I was also sorry to read that Summer’s going to continue on in Sound of Music until February 2009. Gah, what a waste! This girl needs a role in a show where she can do some dancing again! Although I’m happy to see her continuously employed, I’d much rather have a chance to see her in a show where she can really show her stuff … say in Anything GoesWest Side StorySweet Charity