Both fresh from the London production of Top Hat, Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch talk about reprising their roles in Kenneth Wax's glittering stage production of the 1935 film which visits Wolverhampton at the Grand Theatre for two weeks from Tue 21 October - Sat 1 November.
For those Channel 4 viewers who saw The Sound Of Musicals earlier this year, you may remember Alan Burkitt as the ensemble member stepping in as the understudy for Jerry Travers on what should have been Gavin Lee’s press night. We asked Alan about his experience:
I loved that night, everyone was asking me “are you terrified?” and to think about it, I probably should have been - it was a huge night in the West End but I always think with these sort of things that you get one chance, and I was going to take it! It was a lovely evening, the director went out before the show and apologised, saying that unfortunately due to illness Gavin Lee wasn’t going to perform in the show that night. The audience gave me a great big cheer and I thought “they’re with me!” so I went out there confident and had a great show and I got some lovely reviews the morning after.
Charlotte, like Alan, you’ve played your role in the West End production of Top Hat. How does it feel to be back with the show for the tour?
It’s great! I absolutely love the show, I love the role - it’s Ginger Rogers! Stepping into those shoes is a dream come true. When they asked me to come back I didn’t even have to think twice, to get into those costumes again and to do all of Bill Deamer’s amazing choreography, it was a no-brainer. To do the show with Alan too is great, we rehearsed so much together during our time in the London production but never got to perform. I was Dale when Tom Chambers was Jerry but I’d always rehearsed with Alan just in case, so when I heard he was Jerry for the tour I simply had to come back and finally get my chance to fall in love with him every day!
Alan, how challenging is the role of Jerry Travers for you, it seems rather demanding?
It’s very demanding! I’m hardly off stage for the whole of the first act. I don’t go off for at least 25 minutes, it’s pure song and dance and then straight into an acting scene! In the suits we get very warm, you’re sweating constantly and I’m eating like a Trojan at the minute to keep me going! Anything I like, cream cakes galore!
Charlotte, you’ve previously played Penny in Dirty Dancing, a show which happens to be at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre this September and now you’re playing Dale in Top Hat – did you have to learn particular styles of dance for these very different shows, or were they styles that you had experience with and could adapt?
They are very different, but it’s all within my inner dancer! When I came in to Top Hat I thought I’d get a little bit of a break after Dirty Dancing. Penny is all about high kicks and back bends but as it turns out, Dale does a few of those too! I love it though, dancing is my first love beyond everything… and the dresses! There’s a lot more to these costumes than the Dirty Dancing ones - I was strutting around in skimpy leotards but now I’m wearing these gorgeous dresses with feathers and miles of material! Getting into those dresses every day I feel like a princess! I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have been in both of those shows and the Grand Theatre is just as lucky to have them both within five weeks of each other.
Alan, do you a feel a pressure to live up to the movie, with Fred Astaire?
Not really, it’s such a nice thing that we’re bringing the 1935 movie version to the stage – it’s hard to believe that it hadn’t been done before now, but we’re not trying to be Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. People say to me, “that’s such a ‘Fred’ thing about you”, which of course is flattering and a great compliment – he’s my absolute idol, but I’m not trying to be him, this is mine – Alan’s version of Jerry Travers and if it’s looked upon with such admiration then that’s great, I’m doing my job!
How do you feel about stepping into Ginger Rogers' iconic role Charlotte?
I took over from Summer Strallen in the West End which was pretty nerve-racking anyway. She was the only person who’d ever played it before on stage. To replace her, I had to try and make the role my own. The biggest shoes to step into were Ginger Rogers’ but both me and Alan always say that we’re not Fred and Ginger and we’re not playing Fred and Ginger – we’re doing characters that were played by them and they’re absolute icons but we just try to do them justice. For anyone who’s a fan of the old Hollywood movie musical, you can’t go wrong with this. A benefit of seeing it in the theatre is experiencing it live, you’ll see the Top Hat you love, but as you’ve never seen it before. With a film you cut and edit and jump from scene to scene but on stage it’s all real and just flows so nicely. I think what’s been created here is really great and the all the Olivier Awards it’s won, including Best Musical speaks for itself.
In your own words, Alan, why should people come to see Top Hat?
It is the most enchanting evening you will have at the theatre. The musical is full of beautiful costumes, stunning choreography and is absolutely hilarious! Get a ticket, it’s perfection!
It’s a legacy, if you’re a fan of the old Hollywood movie you’ll love it! But even if you’re not or you’ve never seen it, it’s a fantastic all-singing, all-dancing piece of theatre with beautiful music, beautiful costumes, stunning choreography all wrapped up in the exquisite 1930’s style. It’s perfectly romantic, come along and lose yourself in this magical Hollywood world. It’s a funny story, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’re probably going to leave tap dancing!