Piccadilly Theatre, London
This glitter filled and entertaining production might rely slightly too much on Will Young but is fun to watch unfold.
Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 film, Strictly Ballroom the Musical is corny, entertaining fun with (of course) some classy dancing that really captures the attention of the audience as well as leaving them with the urge to learn how to dance.
The musical follows the story of Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey) who is in need of a new dance partner after getting himself and his partner disqualified. Enter Fran (Zizi Strallen) who has the enthusiasm but not quite the knowledge to take to the stage – together they learn more about dance and life as their partnership on and off the stage develops.
Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, the production’s main strength lies in the exquisite choreography as highlighted by the fiery and passionate Paso Doble performed by Fernando Mira (Rico) and the way in which throughout a huge combination of different dance styles are incorporated impressively into the show. McOnie expertly uses his dance knowledge to create a show that celebrates the world of dancing to full effect.
But it is also Strictly Ballroom’s sunny disposition and feel-good spirit, that brings to mind shows like Hairspray and Priscilla Queen of the Desert that doesn’t fail to put a smile on the audience’s face, thanks to Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s slightly cheesy but always endearing book. The script is dotted with plenty of moments of humour, helped by the exaggerated characterisations that could perhaps be considered irritating but seems to work for the show. Meanwhile, Catherine Martin’s bold and colourful costumes add to the fun and showcase the liveliness of the production well.
Anna Francolini’s performance as Shirley Hastings is hilarious as she gets more and more hysterical every time that Scott puts his own moves into strict dance routines – it is an exaggerated performance but makes a nice contrast with Stephen Matthews as the quiet and reserved Doug Hastings. Gerard Horan is suitably sleazy as Barry Fife as the competition judge (I’m guessing its no coincidence that he looks a tiny bit like Donald Trump?). Meanwhile, Jonny Labey as Scott is definitely passionate and fiery enough character wise combined with beautiful dance movements to make for a strong leading man, while Zizi Strallen is suitably charming as Fran transforms from a duckling into a swan, reflected in her developing confidence and spirit – shown effectively as she berates Scott’s attitude towards her. Together they make for a great partnership.
Now, my main issue with the show is with Will Young. This isn’t entirely his fault it has to be said. He has a fabulous voice that really suits the arrangements of songs such as ‘Time After Time’ and ‘Dancing With Myself’ as well as great characterisation of Wally Strand – lively and confident throughout with a touch of dry wit. However, his Australian accent is all over the place which can be a distraction and the fact that all the singing seems to be down to him doesn’t seem fair for the rest of the cast and should be more equally shared out as at times it does feel like you are watching Will Young in concert.
Strictly Ballroom the musical is a colourful and lively affair that fans of Strictly Come Dancing will adore. It is filled with glitter and fun, never taking itself too seriously and is worth watching if you are in need of cheering up or simply adore great dancing.