Today was going to be one of the most bizarre double show days I’d ever done. In the morning; Top Hat. A musical set in 1935 based on the film of the same name starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. In the evening? Rock of Ages. Luckily the Aldwych theatre where Top Hat was being performed was on the same road as the Novello, where I’d seen Mamma Mia the previous night, so I had an idea of where I was going. When I got there, I was the youngest by a good 40 years. I did get some questioning looks as I entered the theatre – what was an 18 year old girl with tattoos, piercings and bright purple hair doing in a theatre watching a musical from the 30s? The answer was simple – it’s all my Nanna’s fault. From the age of three I had curled up on the settee with my Nanna, a cup of tea and a couple of ginger biscuits, and we’d watch musicals. Oliver! Tom Thumb, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz; basically anything that was released before the 1970s. Because of this, I had a deep and enduring love of musicals, especially older musicals, with fully fledged dance routines (think “Step in Time” or “Consider Yourself.”) So when I heard about Top Hat, I knew I had to go.
My seat (AA6 in the upper circle) had cost me only £16.50 and when I got there I saw why – it was a chair. Not a nice, plush, theatre seat fixed in a row, of other nice, plush theatre seats – an actual chair. Oh well, at least I could shuffle it forwards so I could lean over the ENORMOUS lighting rig just in front of me. There were two other people on the row (if you could call it that) and we all had to synchronise our chairs so one wasn’t blocking the other. As the theatre filled up the front rows of the Upper Circle remained empty, and we had an idea. Why couldn’t we just shuffle over? Nobody was sat there after all, what a waste of a good view. We cleared it with the usher and moved over. Wow. We had an exceptional, almost birds-eye view of the stage, at a bargain rate.
As soon as the first musical number started, my jaw dropped. The dancing was exquisite. Nobody missed a single step, even in the very complicated tap dancing numbers which also involved the tapping of canes (I loved it!) The songs themselves were beautiful, very simple melodies with very clever lyrics. Each set change was flawless, and my personal favourite was during “Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” when the two main characters, Jerry and Dale, were in an old fashioned Hansom cab driving through the park. The backdrop was a simple yet stunning array of greens and blues, and the carriage itself was stationary, except for the “wheels” which constantly span around as if they were trotting through the park. It was truly enchanting to watch. Kristen Beth Williams and Gavin Lee, who played Dale Tremont and Jerry Travers respectively, were mesmerising. They were completely in sync and made even the most complicated dance steps look effortless. Every dress Kristen wore was more beautiful and more elegant than the last, and she carried herself perfectly. Gavin once played Bert in Mary Poppins, so you can imagine his dancing prowess.
I’d be the first to admit that I prefer singing to dancing; however you couldn’t help but be in awe of Gavin and Kristen. Instead of the leads breaking off into a song, they would suddenly begin to dance together. The most intricate, mesmerising routines I have ever seen in my life. Kristen managed her full-length dresses beautifully, appearing elegant and confident at the same time. Gavin, was spectacular. He had a tap-dancing solo in full top hat and tails, and even though it lasted a good five minutes, I never wanted it to end. It was truly stunning. As the final curtain went down the cast received a well-deserved standing ovation from all three tiers of the theatre. By this time it was 5:30pm and I still had to make my way to Leicester Square to meet Lucy and have something to eat before going to see Rock of Ages, which I knew for a fact would be very different from what I had just experienced!
After meeting Lucy for a quick drink and some food in the Yates’ across the road from the Garrick, we headed over. Unfortunately, because we had booked the tickets separately, I was in seat C10 and Lucy was in G10. As we gave our tickets to an usher he said “oh, you’re not sat together.” Really?! He suggested that we go to the box office to see if there were any spare seats in which we could sit together. This being Lucy’s 80th Rock of Ages show, she knew the staff pretty well, and we were soon settled in our new seats – A7 and A8. There was nobody in front of us and, being literally in the middle of the row, we had a stunning view of the stage. I was secretly hoping that it would be Nathan Amzi as Lonny, however when Simon Lipkin burst out of the door at the top of the stairs I was glad to see him. He was on form! There were a couple of cast changes – Grant Anthony replaced Dan Fletcher as Dennis Dupree and Andrew Spillett was Hertz instead of Rohan Tickell – but we weren’t expecting a cast change DURING the show. At the start of the show Tim Driesen played Joey Primo, however during Wanted Dead or Alive when Joey re-appeared, he had magically changed into Ian McIntosh. To be fair I didn’t notice, but of course Lucy did, and we spent the rest of the first half worrying about Tim.
At the interval we both took to twitter and Nathan had tweeted about the seamless Joey Primo transition, however hadn’t said how Tim was. Just before the second half there was an announcement, “due to the indisposition of Tim Driesen the role of Joey Primo will now be played by Ian McIntosh.” Poor Tim! The second half was flawless as always, except for one incident which still makes me laugh now. Just before “High Enough,” my favourite song of the show, Drew (Ross Hunter) insists that he never said to Sherrie (Natalie Andreou) that they were “just friends.” At this point Lonny (Simon Lipkin) the “narrator” of the show, pops his head out of a side door and shouts “erm actually yes you did” before being glared at by Drew and retreating back inside. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. On this particular occasion Simon came shooting out of the door at top speed before realising that he wasn’t actually meant to be on stage, so he quickly said his line, spun around and headed offstage. At this point he was travelling pretty fast, so when he opened the door he had just come out of his momentum catapulted him forwards and he managed to hit himself square in the forehead with the door instead of walking through it. Cue uncontrollable laughing from the crowd, especially me and Lucy who knew that wasn’t supposed to happen. He regained his composure slightly then dramatically staggered back as if it was all part of an act, before muttering “I’m ok” and walking off the stage. Ross and Natalie did incredibly well not to completely lose themselves and, all the way through the most dramatic duet of the show, I could not stop laughing.
After the show we headed to the stage door and waited for the cast to come out. There were a few other girls waiting as well, but when Ross came out of the stage door he headed straight to us and gave us both a huge hug – at which point the other girls walked off. Oops. After a nice chat with Ross, Jodie Jacobs (who plays Regina) and Natalie Andreou came out of the stage door but rushed off because Jodie needed a beer. Fair enough. As soon as Nathan came out of the stage door I gave him a huge hug and, again, he picked me up with one arm. I don’t know how he does it. As we were talking to him Rachel McFarlane (Justice) came out and I left Nathan and Lucy to give her a big hug. “Hello again!” she said, “How’s your Mum?” I love Rachel. Us Northern girls have got to stick together! After talking to Tim Howar (Stacee Jaxx) Grant Anthony (Dennis for the night – he’s nice considering he’s from *shudders* Yorkshire. I’m a Manc; it’s in my blood to detest people from the wrong side of the M62) and Andy Spillett (not a bad Hertz but I really did miss Rohan) we headed home.