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Astaire and Rogers animate joy of musicals in Top Hat

Top Hat (1935)

Directed by Mark Sandrich.

Music by Irving Berlin.

Starring by Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick, and Lucille Ball.

LSCFriday Classics.

7:30 p.m., 10-250.

By Gregory A. Dancer

LSC is treating us to a terrific musical comedy Friday. If you like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, you're going to love Top Hat. This film is quintessential Fred and Ginger, from the initial verbal sparring and mistaken identities that keep them apart, to the wonderful tap and partner dances which reconcile their differences and establish their love and equality as a couple.

Rogers plays Dale Tremont, who catches the eye of Jerry Travers (Astaire), a U.S. star in a London musical. They meet after Jerry keeps Dale awake by tap dancing on the floor above her, and the romance is stalled only when Dale is led to believe that Jerry is her best friend's husband. A few excellent comic turns complement the dance and song, ably carried out by comedians Edward Everett Horton and Helen Broderick.

Top Hat demonstrates how fluid musicals had become by 1935. Dialogue blends seamlessly into song in Astaire's "No Strings" number, and the spontaneity and energy of "Isn't This a Lovely Day" is thrillingly contagious. This number deftly takes over where the pair's vocal exchange leaves off, showing us on the dance how they prove themselves to each other and, of course, fall in love. Fred and Ginger are excellent performers when it comes to expressing character through dance and song. When you watch Top Hat, note the non-verbal moments (apart from the big musical numbers) which show us how the two are feeling.

Even audiences in the 30s didn't go to an Astaire-Rogers film for the depth of the story or characters, and there's no point in getting our hopes up in the 90s. Long before the film arrived at the theater, audiences knew exactly who these characters were and what the outcome of this version of their story would be. They wanted to watch Fred and Ginger (alias Jerry and Dale, John and Penny, Peter and Linda, etc.) dance together and fall in love again and again. It was this partnership and its marvelous way of evolving through dance that kept people coming back to the theater. So when reviewers criticized the plot as "preposterous" or "one of the most flimsily prolonged romantic misunderstandings of the season" they weren't wrong, just off the mark.

Go see Top Hat not because it will keep you guessing, but because it will deliver exactly what it promises: an exciting evening of dance and song with a light sprinkling of comedy and romance. See it because it will reinvigorate an all too familiar movie genre with a lot more energy and enthusiasm than the lackluster genre offering LSC commonly shows down the hall. Go see Top Hat for fun, and you'll be dancing all night long.