Piccadilly Theatre, London
Strictly Ballroom is a chilled out, glittering celebration of dance and a refreshing show to add to the list of ones to cheer us up in these dreary times.
Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 film, Strictly Ballroom tells the story of Scott Hastings, a young Australian man who’s been dancing and winning awards for almost his entire life. He longs to break free of what moves are ‘expected’ and ‘strictly ballroom’ and pave his own way in the dance world. Enter Fran, just Fran, the overlooked dancer who wants a life of love, passion and to dance with Scott. When Scott starts improvising at a dance competition again, his partner Liz leaves him and he and Fran become secret dance partners.
This show is cheesy beyond belief but it’s also extremely self-aware. The over exaggeration and somewhat cringy humour works because it doesn’t try to be anything other than fun. The characters are larger than life but work to create an embellished version of life as a competitive dancer.
This show is, of course, all about the dance and Drew McOnie has done an outstanding job choreographing in his West End debut. The moves are sharp, sleek and a real joy to watch. When attending this show, I wasn’t aware that it’s not a typical musical. In fact, I would describe it more as a play with songs.
Will Young takes on the role of Wally Strand who acts as the compere, narrator and singer. His voice is beautiful and he does a fabulous job of performing Marius De Vries’ arrangements of hit songs such as ‘Dancing With Myself’, ‘Love is in The Air’, ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ and more.
This set up doesn’t take away from the show at all but it would be nice to see the rest of the company getting a chance to show off their vocals. However, it’s the dance that’s the star of the show. Taking the place of big vocal numbers, it’s stunning to see such colourful, glitzy routines on the stage. The Act 2 close of the Paso Doble and Habañera is especially powerful, with Fernando Mira’s flamenco routine wowing the audience.
There’s a running joke that the west end isn’t the west end unless a Strallen sister is in a show but seeing Zizi Strallen perform you can understand how their talent has made them a crucial part of the theatre scene. Zizi’s performance is dorky and heartfelt. Her character arc throughout is beautiful to watch. It’s truly joyous to watch her perform and you can’t help but keep your eyes on her every second she’s on stage. I’m definitely going to have to bring my apricot face scrub out of the cupboard if it’ll make me look like Zizi! Ms Strallen’s footwork is also sublime and she works in perfect synchronicity with Jonny Labey. Jonny is dazzling on stage and is clearly the perfect choice for the role. The pair of actors are a winning combo.
Anna Francolini is suitably hilarious as Scott’s mother who lives vicariously through him- her comedic timing is outstanding. Eve Polycarpou is sweet and endearing as Fran’s Abeula and her latin vocals really stand out amongst the rousing music. The ensemble of Strictly Ballroom are great, all with clear personalities in their dancing duos. Gabriela Garcia and Liam Marcellino really stand out as Vanessa and Wayne. The entire cast work brilliantly together to create a polished show.
It’s a lovely feature to have the band live on stage and it’s amazing how they become part of the action rather than being overshadowing at all. This production is well thought out and it’s clear to see how much care and love has gone into it from the entire cast, crew and company.
It’s time to escape the grey for the colour filled dance hall of Strictly Ballroom. Bogo Pogo your way to the Piccadilly theatre for a spectacularly sparkly experience.