The theatre has an admirable tradition of adapting massively successful musical films for its own ends – and vice versa. In recent years, some huge successes have been made, on the silver screen, of originally staged productions: Chicago netted a lot of people a lot of awards, for example, while Les Miserables recently proved that Tom Hooper knows just as much about singing and movies as he does about speech therapists and kings.
On stage, the compliment is returned thanks to two currently successful, sell out options – Singin in the Rain, which of course tells a much-loved screen story on a very wet stage; and Top Hat the Musical, which takes a similarly favoured musical film and turns it into a screwball comedy.
In the case of Top Hat, it is interesting to note that the source material is in itself a love letter to the stage productions that used to form the masses’ most popular entertainment before the advent of talking cinema. Indeed, the relationship between the musical stage comedy and the advent of cinema sound is a complex and important one.
Prior to sound on screen, people went to the theatre to see people singing and dancing. Huge names were involved in writing and promoting musical theatre at this time – including one Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, whose drawing room wit found ready appreciation on the stage.
When sound came to the cinema, the studios wanted to get on board as quickly as possible – as noted, as a matter of fact, in the film version of Singin in the Rain. The most natural way for them to get productions off the ground quickly, which worked well for the new sound, was to do musicals. The scripts already existed, there were plenty of musical actors and actresses out there, and the technology of the new sound allowed them to use pre-cut musical records for the musical numbers.
The result was a lot of screwball comedies, which originally were on the stage, ending up on screen. So Top Hat, when it came along, became a sort of elegy to the stage; a film in which what would have been a stage musical is written for the screen, about a group of people involved in the production of stage musicals.
It is, then, delightful to note that the film about stage musicals, which was never a stage musical in and of itself, has now been resurrected as a stage musical so people nostalgic for screen musicals can get their fix.
The same can be said for Singin in the Rain, which as a film deals with much the same topics (though with a slightly more coherent and clever bent) and which as a stage musical does exactly the same thing: by giving audiences something they already know how to enjoy in a slightly different format.
The relationship between stage and film musicals has always been there. It seems now that it is coming full circle – from stage onto the screen and back again.
Henry spent some of his University grant money on a trip to see Top Hat The Musical in a West End Theatre and found hundreds of reasons why Top Hat The Musical offers a better time than mostly all other modern day amusements.