PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bill Deamer, Choreographer of London's Top Hat

By Mark Shenton
30 Jun 2012

Simon Blackhall in Chaplin.
Photo by Clive Barda

You mentioned Astaire as being an influence — you've also become an Astaire expert.
BD: In 2002, I was asked to do the first-ever tribute to Fred Astaire at the London Palladium, and met his daughter Ava Astaire. It was quite daunting at first rehearsal — I arrived and there was Cyd Charisse, Jane Powell, Ann Miller and Robert Wagner, sitting in the front row waiting for me! That's where it all started! And when Top Hat came up, Ava insisted I did the job! That was a great honor.

Top Hat has joined Singin' in the Rain in the West End — another film transposed to the stage. Is there a special trick to reinventing them?
BD: You have to find the energy of those shows and make them accessible to audiences today. You can't copy the film — you have to go somewhere else with it. You have to be faithful to the style of the original, but you must then go where you want to go with it, as Gillian Lynne taught me. Besides, no performer can be Astaire — so if you try to make it a copy, you're on a hiding to nothing. I was given the rights to use the choreography from the film, which is a great honor of course, but it didn't work onstage.

You had quite a long journey with Top Hat — literally so, as it toured for a long time before it came into the West End.
BD: It changed a lot on the tour. We realized that we didn't have a good enough opening number for the West End. We had a meeting with the Irving Berlin daughters and Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac from the Rodgers and Hammerstein office in New York [who administer the rights to the Berlin catalog], who've been the most amazing support to me throughout, and they let us put in "Putting On the Ritz." I remember tapping it out on the table for them, and they said yes. It gets the show off with a huge bang.



Other support, of course, comes from your dance arranger Chris Walker and director Matthew White.
BD: Chris is a genius — every eyelash, every arm is orchestrated! You're lost without a good dance arranger. I've worked with directors before where I've been in another room rehearsing, and you come back and half a dozen bars have been cut! You can't do that because the whole flow of a phrase will go. So the director and choreographer have to work hand in hand, as Matt and I have done.

Are you tempted to direct as well?
BD: I'd love to! That's the next step. But I love working with good directors — when the collaboration is right, there's nothing better!

(Mark Shenton is Playbill.com's London news correspondent. Check out the International News section.)

 

View highlights from London's Top Hat: