Friday, 17 July 2015

Ava Astaire's Interview as Published in the Top Hat on Stage Brochure

Bit of a pain to scan the page so as you can see, i've just typed up the interview with Ava Astaire as published in the Top Hat on stage brochure :-)

The Timing Seemed Right...
By Ava Astaire McKenzie

'In the fall of 2009 a producer by the name of Kenny Wax asked to come and see me with a project he wanted to discuss. He explained that he was very committed to mounting a stage production of Top Hat which had been one of my father's most successful movies for the RKO studios. He explained that he had approached the Irving Berlin Music Company in New York with the idea but they had turned down his request. He told me that he was going to go and see them regardless and that if he had my support, it would certainly carry a great deal more weight. So I wrote a letter to Ted Chaplin who runs the Irving Berlin Music Company saying that I felt the timing seemed right, that it was a very good idea and I'd have no objection. Ted also runs the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organisation, so he has a great deal of influence in the world of musical theatre and in time he was able to open the door for Kenny to meet Ted Hartley who owns RKO Pictures. By the strangest of co-insidences my own husband Richard was an old friend of Ted Hartley from our days in Los Angeles, so on Kenny's return trip he went armed with another letter, this time for Ted Hartley, which helped to oil the wheels for a second time.

I also thought that if Top Hat was done well, it would look so wonderful on stage and I really hoped that it was something that would happen.

My only real reservation was that the actor chosen to play the male lead would not be playing Fred Astaire, but would be portraying the character of Jerry Travers that my father played in the movie.

In November 2010 we were asked to attend the first read and sing-through of the new script which had been adapted for the stage. I was so impressed, really amused and thoroughly entertained and I remember looking forward to seeing the show with anticipation, the lavish sets, the beautiful costumes. I had nothing but positive thoughts about the prospects for the show.

Whether my father would have endorsed it is difficult to say. He very much preferred to look forward and not back and perhaps he would even have been puzzled as to why someone wanted to re-create it after all these years.

But I'd like to think that the wonder of seeing and hearing a large company of 31 people, all tapping simultaneously on stage to Irving Berlin's great melodies, should in itself be extremely exciting. And then of course you can add the choreographer's magic on top of that. Bill Deamer, who had been entrusted with creating the routines for the stage show, choreographed a concert that we did at the London Paladium called 'Fred Astaire: His daughter's tribute'. Bill has a wonderful understanding of the period and is the perfect choice, but then I would say that as I was the one who recommended him to the producer.

Almost every professional dancer that I have ever come across has said the same thing to me - that my father was the inspiration for their career. That's quite a legacy. I emphasise though, that he worked incredibly hard, no one had to tell me that, it was obvious and I saw it for myself. When I worked with him on his television specials he insisted on at least twice the amount of dance rehearsal that would have been the norm. He was a perfectionist. Perhaps this production of Top Hat will excite another generation of dancers to enter the profession and I think that my father would have been happy about that.

The movie of Top Hat was filmed and released before I was born, so I don't have any specific recollections.
I do know that, despite things that have been written, Daddy and Ginger had great respect for each other and liked working together. Perhaps they weren't great social friends, they had their own lives, but they certainly did not fight. I remember Ginger coming to the house in Beverly Hills and all of us eating in the casual day room rather than the formal dining room.
Although I was unaware of it at the time, in retrospect I realise that I grew up in a magical world. Our neighbours were Charlie Chaplin on one side and Mary Pickford on the other. Among my parents' good friends were Cole Porter, Merle Oberon, Sam Goldwyn and David Niven. Randolph Scott was my godfather, Clark Gable was a regular visitor to our ranch in the San Fernando Valley, and I remember going to Liza Minnelli's birthday party where there were elephants.

Daddy, of course, was great friends with Irving Berlin. I recall answering the phone to Irving's unmistakable voice on many occasions, and when I was a very young girl I knew his daughters. We met up again at the rehearsed reading. How nice that Top Hat has reunited the Berlins and the Astaires after all these years'

Top Hat on Stage had its World Premiere at Milton Keynes Theatre on the 16th August 2011, it had a successful 17 week tour in the UK, with an additional pre West End tour in the spring of 2012  before transferring to London's West End where it opened for previews at the Aldwych Theatre on the 19th April 2012 with it's 'official' opening on the 9th May 2012.

Top Hat ran for 18 months in the West End with its closing show on the 26th October 2013, during this period it was nominated for 7 Olivier Awards and won 3 including 'Best New Musical', 'Best Costume Design' and 'Best Choreographer', Top Hat also won 'Best Night Out' in the Evening Standards Theatre Awards 2012

A further 47 week tour of the UK and Ireland began on the 12th of August 2014 and is due to finish on the 25th July 2015

A Japan Tour going to Tokyo and Osaka commences on the 30th of September

I can 100% verify that it's an amazing production, I freely admit that I've seen it more than a few times ;-) and thoroughly recommend it :-)


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