Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are pretty big shoes to fill as Alan Burkitt and Charlotte Gooch are finding out in the new stage version of Top Hat (Mayflower, Southampton, May 12-23).
“It’s just a wonderful show and such a great role,” says Charlotte. “It’s Ginger Rogers! You can’t get better than that! Ginger and Fred were one of the greatest dance partnerships of all time. They were so fantastic in everything they did.
“But we were saying, you can’t try to be them. It’s a wonderful honour to do it, but you can’t think you are them. You have just got to try to do them justice and give everyone the chance to enjoy it live on stage rather than watching the old black-and-white film on TV on a Sunday afternoon!
“This is the first time it has been brought to the stage. It has been years in the making because the Irvine Berlin estate and the Fred Astaire estate were so protective towards it. If it was going to be staged, it had to be absolutely perfect. They spent years and years getting it just right.”
Charlotte plays Dale, an American society girl/model who travels the world with an Italian fashion designer, the funny man of the show.
“She ends up in London at a particular fashion show, and it is in London that she meets the Fred Astaire character, Jerry Travers (Alan Burkitt), the famous American tap dancer. He happens to be tap-dancing in the room above hers, and she gets annoyed and stomps up there. There is the meet-cute moment, but she mistakes him for someone else and gets herself in a right old state.
“She is quite a strong cookie. She is very independent. She likes to have a joke, and she likes to wind people up. She knows her own mind. With Gerry, my character has this lovely cat and mouse game, trying to chase after each other. Dale is not going to let herself fall in love just yet. She is sharp and strong but at the same time she has got this vulnerable side, this massive heart. She thinks she has fallen in love with her best friend’s husband and is mortified. It’s all a mistake, and the audience knows and are going ‘Just ask him his name!’ but that’s all part of the fun!”
Inevitably, it’s a very demanding show dance-wise.
“From start to finish with this one, it is non-stop, and you have such a variety of dance styles. There is all the tap dance, and then the show is also full of numbers like Cheek to Cheek which are much more ball-room based, and you are doing that in massive high heels! It’s just a really busy show for me. It’s one scene, run off, get changed, big dance number, quick costume change followed by a song. I am constantly gasping for breath.
“It’s a bit of a marathon, but we have been doing the show since August, and you get used to it. It becomes autopilot, and your stamina builds up as you go along. There are eight shows a week, and there is all the travelling. At the start I was really tired all the time, but I am fine now. You just have to look after yourself, make sure you get enough sleep, make sure you are eating healthily. It’s a lovely bunch of people on tour, and we all look after each other. We will be saying to each other ‘Don’t you think it is time you went to bed now!’”