Piccadilly Theatre, London
Every now and then a great stage musical is translated onto the big screen in an evolution that can see vistas expanded and detail added to what might originally have been far more nuanced in the theatre. Done in reverse and it can all get a bit messy – as cinematic themes and styles are telescoped into the restrictive frame of a proscenium arch.
So it is with Strictly Ballroom – in which Baz Luhrmann’s seminal 1992 picture (and one of the greatest Australian movies ever) has been condensed into something far more average, now playing at the Piccadilly Theatre.
The story is an unrelenting pastiche that is not only unpolished, it has in fact been relentlessly smothered in glitter. One senses that the show’s core audience is likely to be middle-aged women on a night out to hear Will Young singing the songs of their long-past youth.
Young’s Wally Strand is a role that sees an English actor don an Australian accent and effectively play the role of a Greek chorus. His voice is mostly mellifluous, but few of that core audience are likely to care as he relentlessly turns memories into muzak, rendering classic rock and pop hits of the 80s into elevator fodder.
The book and songs here may be dire, but the entertainment shines through in Strictly Ballroom’s dazzling dance. Drew McOnie choreographs the piece (he also directs, though thankfully with a book this shallow it is hard to blame him too much for the show’s cheesy tedium) and works his usual magic.
McOnie is blessed in his task by having an outstanding company to work with. Zizi Strallen and Jonny Lacey are outstanding in their leading roles of star-crossed unlikely lovers – and they are wonderfully supported by (amongst others) the stand out work of Lauren Stroud and Fernando Mira – a man who makes his Cuban heels simply blaze.
Ben Atkinson’s 10-piece on-stage band also make fine and impressive work of the score, notwithstanding some of the overpowering arrangements.
But it’s Strallen and Labey that are what this show is all about. If you enjoy their fabulously fancy footwork (or, of course, the sight and sound of Will Young squeezed into glitzy leather) then you won’t be disappointed.