Buying Astaire way to heaven

MILTON Keynes Theatre has become a real jewel in the crown of the Ambassador Group, since opening its doors back in 1999, writes Sammy Jones.

The venue offers a cracking programme of events all year round, and before the curtain falls on 2011 it will have welcomed A-listers including Sir Ian McKellan and Brian May to its stage.

It doesn’t follow, MK Theatre leads and a little over a week ago it delivered another first – its first world premiere.

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Doing justice to the roles made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1931 classic Top Hat was down to television’s Tom Chambers and stage-star Summer Strallen.

As they say in the theatreland, everything was alright on the night. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of butterflies backstage.

“It was a cake of two halves,” says Tom Chambers shortly before the curtain rises on the first matinee delivery.

“One half was excitement, one half nerves.

“It was a historic moment and one I will cherish and never forget.

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“We had an amazingly expectant audience and Fred and Ginger are Hollywood musical icons, so you want to do justice and make it spectacular.

Tom admits that when he was growing up, his pals looked to Sylvester Stalone and Arnie, but for him, Astaire left an impression: “For 21 years I have been dreaming of doing this,” he admitted.

“I am passionate about dancing tap, and Fred’s daughter was here for opening night, which was an immense honour.

“She came to the dressing room and was wearing the actual ring that he wore in the film from 1935. To touch that piece of memorabilia was amazing.”

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To get Top Hat to the stage has been an intense slog of 11 hours days for eight weeks.

Now, with glowing praise being poured on to the lavish piece, forTom, co-star Summer Strallen and the cast entire who have worked so hard, it’s payback time.

“The most amazing response has been how funny the story is,” Tom enthuses, “It would stand up alone. The songs and dance are like an added bonus, because the characters are just hilarious!”

And if people haven’t taken a ticket to the show yet, how would you persuade them too, Mr Chambers?

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“I would say if you have any bit of trouble in your life and need your spirits raising they will be raised to the roof and beyond. It is inspiring.

“Without sounding cliche, there is every element for every person’s desires – those iconic dances, Irving Berlin’s music and orchestration and that comedic storytelling.”

And Top Hat really is the stuff dreams are made of: Tom was unemployed for six years after drama school.

Undeterred, he sent out 1000 DVDs of himself dancing like Fred Astaire. He received just two responses – one was an audition for BBC drama Holby City, and he bagged a three-year contract.

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From that he was offered Strictly Come Dancing and he took the title, dancing to the top spot...which led directly to this Top Hat engagement.

“It’s like everything has come full circle,” a delighted Tom says before heading to the stage again.

Fred Astaire would surely approve of the nimble mover with the unshakeable faith.