SUSY BRETT TOOK TIME TO GO AND SEE THE LATEST SHOW TO HIT THE WEST END
Waltzing onto a West End stage this Spring is the musical theatre adaptation of Baz Luhrman’s 1992 romcom Strictly Ballroom.
Like the film, the story revolves around Australian ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey), who longs to establish a unique style of ballroom dancing. After his ballroom partner leaves him, he meets dancing beginner Fran (Zizi Strallen), who encourages him to pursue his passion. However, Scott’s decision to dance non-federation steps at Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship is considered an unpopular choice, not least by his mother Shirley (Anna Francolini) and Australian Federation head Barry Fife (Gerard Horan). The show is narrated by Wally Strand (Will Young), who also sings the musical numbers.
Strictly Ballroom is, as the name suggests, a musical that celebrates ballroom dancing. Highly talented dancers make technical steps look elegant and effortless, whirling across the stage throughout. The performances are wonderfully cheesy and over-the-top. Dazzling costumes of the brightest colours (one wonders how many sequins went into this production) adorn a well made-up cast on an eye-catching set, complete with coloured lights to create a kind of technicolour dreamland. There are some beautiful arrangements of classic songs to accompany the dancing, with lyrics sung by Will Young.
Jonny Labey excels in the role of Scott Hastings. Like the character, he is clearly a very talented man oozing with confidence and technical finesse. Zizi Strallen, the show’s leading lady, is an excellent foil, as comfortable portraying a gawky beginner as a fiery Pasodoble dancer. Easily the most interesting character is that of Scott’s father Doug Hastings, whose arc goes from pitiful to heroic in the second act and is excellently portrayed by Stephen Matthews. Other performances didn’t quite hit the mark. Though a wonderful dancer, Anna Francolini’s comedy lines often missed the mark. And although I’m sure some will love to see the Will Young concert that Strictly Ballroom is, I don’t really understand why the character of Wally Strand exists.
Strangely enough, the thing that Strictly Ballroom seems to lack most is the actual ballroom dancing. The show is dominated by a plot which strictly adheres to the film, making it feel long and clunky on stage. There is nothing particularly innovative about this plot, which follows the basic structure of any other dance film. This musical makes little attempt to modernise the core material, save for Barry Fife’s Trump-esque styling, leaving it feeling dated.
The costumes, designed by four-time Academy Award winner Catherine Martin, steal the show throughout. These are works of opulence that are probably too extravagant even for ballroom dancing, but make for a spectacle on stage. The only problem is the stage already feels cramped, with the relatively small size of the Piccadilly Theatre and the presence of an on-stage band. The addition of some enormous ballroom dresses does little to hide this.
Strictly Ballroom is a colourful and uplifting evening at the theatre, with some great performances. However, show is packed with an unnecessary and dated plot, losing precious minutes that could have been dedicated to showcasing some incredible dancers. Fans of Strictly Come Dancing and Will Young may enjoy it very much, but this is definitely not the best the West End has to offer.