Review by Daz Gale
It’s been a long time coming but Strictly Ballroom is waltzing into venues around the country as part of its first UK tour. This week, it danced into London for a week at New Wimbledon Theatre. But after facing delays due to Covid, was the show fabulous or did the whole thing have two left feet?
Based on Baz Luhrmann's film from 1992, the stage adaptation of Strictly Ballroom danced into the West End in 2018, following runs in Australia, Canada and a British premiere in Leeds. The show tells the story of a rebellious young ballroom dancer whose daring dance styles breaks from tradition much to others disapproval. Upon meeting a young beginner, they gradually find the same rhythm. If you are looking for a complex plot, this is not the show for you. People dance and look pretty - that's all you need!
The cast is led by Kevin Clifton as Scott Hastings. After making a name for himself as a dancer on Strictly Come Dancing, Kevin has proven himself time and time again as an accomplished musical theatre performer. With both those elements combined, this makes the role an absolute perfect fit for Kevin, and he has never been better than he in is this show. Demonstrating immeasurable star quality, his phenomenal dancing is joined by a beautiful singing voice and great comedic acting, proving once and for all what a triple threat he is.
Kevin is joined by his former Strictly Come Dancing partner Maisie Smith as Fran. Showing off a gorgeous singing voice, she is a revelation in the role, demonstrating what a fine actress she is in a predominantly comic turn hidden with a lot of heart. Having worked together previously, the pair exhibit the kind of chemistry others can only dream of as they form the heart of the show.
Nikki Belsher and Mark Sangster are scene-stealing in their turns as Shirley and Doug Hastings while Jose Agudo is a highlight as Rico. Gary Davis is fabulous as Barry Fife with Quinn Patrick a standout as Les Kendall.
The various productions of Strictly Ballroom differ vastly. If you saw this in the West End a few years ago, this will surprise you by how different this is. Directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the West End version saw an Emcee character called Wally singing most of the songs while other characters didn't. This version changes that in the sense that Wally has been eliminated. This allows all cast members to perform their own musical numbers. Having seen both versions, this way works a lot better - giving more the characters more to do and in turn creating a bit more depth.
The music used in Strictly Ballroom is a mix of well known numbers with original songs written for the show. Classics including Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ and ‘Love Is In The Air’ provide joyful moments, but the original numbers vary in quality quite drastically. ‘Beautiful Surprise’ is a showstopping number and shows what can be achieved, but has to sit in a show that also boasts numbers like ‘New Steps Nightmare’ where the words “New steps” chanted and repeated incessantly for seemingly an hour have fittingly gone on to haunt my nightmares.
The greatest element to Strictly Ballroom has to be in its bigger dance numbers which are every bit as grand and spectacular as you would expect. Directed and co-choreographed by Strictly legend Craig Revel Horwood, the stage bursts with life during some truly stunning sequences with the Pasodoble astonishing to witness. That momentum isn’t always maintained sadly, with the flawed book failing to live up to the premise of some of these better numbers. A weaker second act seems to struggle a bit more as well with the show ultimately feeling a bit messy.
Ok, cards on the table - Strictly Ballroom isn't going to win any awards for being groundbreaking. The plot is as thin as it gets and the book is inconsistent. However, the performances from an incredible cast and some inspired creative choices makes the whole thing perhaps better than it ought to be. While this isn’t anywhere near as stunning as Baz Luhrmann’s other huge show Moulin Rouge, there is plenty in Strictly Ballroom to keep you entertained and make you want to keep dancing.
Strictly Ballroom is on tour until July 2023. Full dates and tickets from https://strictlyballroomtour.co.uk/
Photos by Ellie Kurttz