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Top Hat? Top show, say Olivier judges

    The cast of the West End production of Top Hat. The show won three awards, including best new musical
    The cast of the West End production of Top Hat. The show won three awards, including best new musical

    The daughter of the legendary composer Irving Berlin has spoken of her delight that the West End musical Top Hat is introducing her father’s music to a new generation of theatre-goers.

    Elizabeth Peters also said she was thrilled that the production had been honoured at this year’s Olivier awards.

    “It deserves it,” she said. “I think my father would be thrilled — it’s just wonderful to hear that music live on the stage.”

    Top Hat, which is produced by Kenny Wax, won three awards at the Oliviers, including best new musical, as well as prizes for best choreography and costumes.

    The production came about after a conversation Mr Wax had over tea, when friends suggested that what with the recession, and the popularity of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing, it would be natural to have a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical on in the West End.

    After initial reluctance, he eventually convinced Berlin’s daughters that the project would be a success.

    “I explained that I had an eight-year-old daughter who had never heard of Irving Berlin,” he revealed. “I said that they need to reopen the catalogue to this generation so they know all his wonderful songs.”

    Berlin, born 125 years ago next week, emigrated to New York as a child to escape the pogroms in Tsarist Russia. He wrote some 1,200 songs, including classics like White Tie and Tails and Cheek to Cheek, which feature in Top Hat.

    “He was the son of a long line of cantors and that’s really where his musical interest came from,” said Mr Wax, who grew up in Hale, in Cheshire, and attended Carmel College. “His songs are really timeless.”

    The musical, which is running at the Aldwych Theatre, is one of several classic showstoppers on in the West End at the moment, including Singing in the Rain and A Chorus Line. “It’s a bit of a cliché but in these recessionary times people do want to go out and have a big feel-good evening,” said Mr Wax.

    “In terms of the size of the cast, the choreography, it’s an old fashioned dance musical,” he added. “It’s absolutely down the street of my parents’ generation.”

    A national tour starts in summer 2014, and there has been interest from producers as far afield as Korea and Japan. In the long term, the hope is for Top Hat to become a staple of amateur theatre, as is the case with classics like Oklahoma and Carousel.

    “We hope we’ll be on in the West End for some time,” said Mr Wax. “The word of mouth is so positive at the moment but there are a lot of shows competing for a limited market.”

    Mrs Peters, who lives in the United States, said she would love to see Top Hat transfer to Broadway. “In the theatre, you never know how something will turn out, so we feel very lucky it has gone so well.”

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