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Top Hats Off For Summer
THE concept of a regular nine-to-five job is well and truly alien to actor Summer Strallen.
Born into an acting family, the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd has been all she’s known since making her theatre debut at the age of three-and-a-half.
Her aunt, Bonnie Langford, was never far from our screens in the 1970s and 80s, her grandmother runs a dance school and her parents both appeared in the original production of Cats. And then there are Summer’s three sisters – Scarlett, Zizi and Saskia – who have all gone into acting as well, with the eldest appearing as Mary Poppins in the West End.
“It’s the same for any parent that sees a talent in their child, whether it be as a mathematician or a footballer – they go with it,”
says Summer, 25.
“We all showed that promise in our family and it’s hard to get away from that. I’m sure at some point I said, ‘Why can’t I be normal?’ But my family are a great support network and because we all do the same thing, it means we all understand it.”
So when Summer stars as the irresistible Dale Tremont in Top Hat – which comes to The Mayflower in September – audiences will be in safe hands.
The original film version starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is widely regarded as one of the greatest dance musicals of all time. Now 76 years after its release, Top Hat is taking to the stage for the first time.
Starring alongside Holby City actor and former Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers, Summer can’t wait to embark on the musical’s nationwide tour. “I was brought up on films like Top Hat and Ginger Rogers has always been one of my idols. I love the era and I’m thoroughly excited about this role, it really is my niche.”
Incredibly busy in recent years, Summer only finished her yearlong stint starring as Meg Giry in Love Never Dies – the sequel to Phantom of the Opera – in March. And before that she played Maria in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s revival of The Sound of the Music. But taking over the role from Connie Fisher was never going to be a straightforward swap for Summer.
In a publicity coup, the stunned actress was secretly planted in teen soap Hollyoaks for five months.
Playing the part of Summer Shaw, the storyline eventually involved her auditioning for, and winning, the role of Maria on the West End stage.
When her character left Hollyoaks for the bright lights, the real-life Summer made her debut as Maria for real at the London Palladium in February 2008.
“It had never been done before and was a cross between soap and reality. I hadn’t done any television previously and thought it would be a fantastic opportunity. They didn’t want the press to find out because they wanted it to be a big publicity smash.
“So when I went into Hollyoaks I couldn’t tell the cast anything until around the last month of filming.”
It was at the tender age of 18 months that Summer started learning ballet and she was three-and-a-half when she trod the boards for the first time (alongside Cilla Black in Aladdin at the Wimbledon Theatre) and she was ten when she started drama school.
While the thought of becoming a vet did cross animal-lover Summer’s mind as a young girl, it was an exceptionally fleeting moment.”
“I don’t think I would have been very good at all the exams and the studying part when I look back on it now!” she laughs.
“Perhaps when I’m older I may have a cattery or a dog shelter.”
For now Summer is focusing her passion for animals on her two pet chihuahuas, Bamm- Bamm and Pebbles – and she is taking them with her during Top Hat’s four-month nationwide tour.
“Fingers crossed that Top Hat goes to the West End and maybe even Broadway.
“After that the next thing that I would like to try my hand at would be film.”
Given Summer’s track record of success, make sure you catch her while you can in Southampton as the USA is sure to be calling for her soon.
p Top Hat is at The Mayflower from Tuesday until September 24. To book tickets, call the box office on 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk.