A new stage musical version of the 1935 RKO film Top Hat, which starred dance icons Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is still on track for a Broadway debut.
Christopher Gattelli, the Tony Award-winning choreographer of Newsies, is directing and choreographing the all-new version of the Irving Berlin-scored Top Hat, which was seen in a separate 2011 London incarnation that won Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Best Choreography. That production was directed by Matthew White, who co-wrote the book along with Howard Jacques.
For the U.S. premiere, Gattelli is collaborating with book writer Chad Beguelin (Aladdin, The Wedding Singer). Their take on Top Hat received a developmental lab in spring 2014. The team has been quietly creating and revising this new incarnation for the past several years.
The original film was a screwball comedy about mistaken identities and an American dancer who pursues the girl he loves from London to Venice. Berlin‘s score included “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.”
“It’s retaining everything that people love about the classic RKO film, but it will be framed in a way that doesn’t feel dusty,” Gattelli tells Playbill.com. “It will include the incredible dancing, but bring it forward in a more contemporary way in terms of how the show feels and looks.”
A handful of new Berlin songs have also been added since the London premiere. “Chad Beguelin did a whole new draft of the show, and he was able to hold onto what was great about the movie, but he’s added characters,” Gattelli says.
The award-winning London production continues to tour the U.K., but Gattelli says the American team is at work on a fresh version for Broadway.
“My goal is to honor what people loved about it. Whether it won awards there or not, I don’t feel that that puts any pressure on us,” he says. “It’s going to be a new version and we’ll see what happens.”
The director-choreographer says that audiences can expect Top Hat to be a large-scale production with a large cast of dancers. “The first conversation I had with RKO when we discussed budget was, ‘Money has to be spent on the talent,’” he says. “I want a big ensemble. I want that fleet of tuxedos that he dances with in the song ‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.’ I want it to have that kind of epic scope… to have that many bodies and tap shoes on stage.”
Top Hat’s Broadway bow is still several seasons off, according to Gattelli.
“We are going to jump back in on Top Hat very soon,” he says. However, up next on his plate as choreographer is the high-profile stage adaptation of Disney’s Frozen, which premieres this summer in Denver before a spring 2018 Broadway arrival at the St. James Theatre.
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