Kenny Wax dusts off his tails for the return of Top Hat

Top Hat. Production photos by Max Lacome-Shaw.

Everyone has a defining moment in their lives when everything falls into place.

For Kenny Wax it was watching Me And My Girl with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson at London’s Adelphi Theatre.

In an instant the die was cast. After knocking on a lot of doors Kenny got into the business – as an usher for the West End production of Miss Saigon.

Thirty-five years later he’s one of the country’s top theatrical producers and dusting off his tails for the return of one of his favourite shows, the spectacular dance musical, Top Hat.

Top Hat premiered at Milton Keynes Theatre in 2011 and it was, says Kenny, “very much a work in progress.”

Kenny Wax
Kenny Wax

The show, created from the 1935 Irving Berlin Hollywood blockbuster starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, did a brief out of town tour before moving into the West End.

During a two-year run at the Aldwych Theatre it won a clutch of awards including three Oliviers.

Wax, who had gambled almost everything including his shirt on its success, was overjoyed.

But there was much drama to follow for this dazzling production, played out on TV in Channel 4’s four-part documentary,The Sound Of Musicals.

Viewers watched understudy Alan Birkitt win critical acclaim after he had to go on for the leading man on opening night – and shared the company’s tears when, after being told of their award success, they learned that the production was being forced to close.

Said Kenny: “Our time in the West End was a very happy experience. The company loved doing the show and it was very well received.

“There was a wind-down period after we announced our closure and, in fact, we were doing a very healthy trade towards the end.

“But the overheads for staging a production like Top Hat are enormous. It was costing us £190,000 a week to put on – that’s an awful lot of tickets to sell.

“Now we are taking Top Hat on an 11-month tour which starts in Wimbledon before returning to Milton Keynes.

“Audiences will see a very different show. I’m really excited. It’s going to be fantastic.

“I’ve always loved those old black and white movies with Fred Astaire and felt that a nostalgia musical hadn’t been done for a long time.


“The glamour and spectacle of Strictly had made dance popular again.

“We got lucky with our original male lead, Tom Chambers, who was primarily an actor. He taught himself to dance and went on to win Strictly.

“The pieces just fell into place. When we opened in Milton Keynes the first time around it was a work on trial.

“We added songs, ditched others, and adapted the story, so that it was a very different piece by the time it hit the West End.

“It’s a fabulous production which will benefit by being performed at regional venues like Milton Keynes, which has a bigger stage.

“We have 200 new costumes, a cast of 29, a fair sized orchestra in the pit and a lot of men running the show.

“It’s a much better show. Alan is now our leading man and he is probably the best tapper in the country.

“He has quite a period look and the part of Jerry Travers is absolutely right for him.”

His “Ginger” is Charlotte Gooch who also performed in the West End production.

“She is just sensational,” added Kenny.

“Top Hat is theatrical and frothy without being ridiculous or silly.

“I do like a good story. Add to that the glamour, great music and lyrics and you have a show that is second to none.”

Tour dates:

19-23 Aug, New Wimbledon Theatre
26 Aug-Sat 6 Sep, Milton Keynes Theatre
9-20 Sep, Theatre Royal, Newcastle
23 Sep-4 Oct, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
7-18 Oct, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
21 Oct-1 Nov, Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
4-15 Nov, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
18-29 Nov, Bristol Hippodrome
2-13 Dec, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
23 Dec-4 Jan 2015, Grand Theatre, Leeds
14-24 Jan, Welsh Millennium Centre, Cardiff
28 Jan-07 Feb, New Theatre, Oxford
10-21 Feb, Manchester Opera House
24 Feb-7 Mar, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
10-21 Mar, Birminham Hippodrome
31 Mar-11 Apr, Theatre Royal, Norwich
14-25 Apr, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
28 Apr-9 May, Theatre Royal Plymouth
12-23 May, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
24 Jun-5 Jul, Empire Theatre, Sunderland
7-18 Jul, New Victoria Theatre, Woking
21-26 Jul, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne.

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