Petra Shepherd is dazzled by the comedy, drama, eye-popping costumes and astonishing dancing
Before the whole country became obsessed with “Strictly” there was a film that inspired the world to dance, Baz Luhrmann’s classic romantic comedy Strictly Ballroom. The 1992 Australian film has been made into a musical and is a kaleidoscope of colour and fun. Based on the multi award-winning movie, the first instalment from Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed Red Curtain Trilogy, Strictly Ballroom tells the story of how rogue championship ballroom dancer Scott defies all the rules of competition to follow his heart. He teams up with left-footed partner Fran to compete in the Pan Pacific Championship his own way. Their love blossoms as their routines flourish, and together they triumph in bringing down the sequin-clad regime of the Dance Federation.
The production originated in Australia where it was created by Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin whilst Drew McOnie (whose dazzling choreography for In the Heights) earned him the 2016 Olivier Award directs and choreographs the West End show.
As if the “Strictly” factor wasn’t a big enough draw, the show also features Will Young, playing the brand new role of band leader, Wally Strand. Will Young brings the same qualities to the role as he did for his acclaimed stage debut as the Emcee in the West End production of Cabaret. The audience loved him, particularly the 90% male audience members in the stalls, who I viewed dancing in their seats from my seat in the dress circle. Yes, this show is very, very camp! but it’s joyous and infectious. Just what we all need at the moment and judging by the popularity of the Baz Luhrman inspired The Greatest Showman still playing at cinemas, I’ve no doubt it will do well. The dancing is truly astonishing, I kept having to look in my programme thinking that the cast members must have danced in “Strictly” or won hundreds of competitions. Johnny Labey, playing the leading role of Scott Hastings, the maverick ballroom dancer torn between his passion and his pride, did in fact win the ITV show Dance, Dance, Dance, and it shows although he is also well known for playing the role of Paul Coker in East Enders. Zizi Strallen playing the role of Fran, the fledging dancer who partners with Scott and catches his eye following his fall from grace is also dazzlingly talented. In the words of Len Goodman, she’d be given a definite “seveeeeeeeern”. Anna Francolini’s, plays the former dancer who will do whatever it takes to ensure her son Scott succeeds to much hilarity. Her comic timing and facial expressions are spot on whilst special mention must go to Fernando Mira as Fran’s paso doble-dancing dad, competing with the best flamenco dancers I’ve seen in Seville.
Even if you are not a fan of ballroom dancing, you’re bound to know the songs, many expertly delivered by Will Young. The musical features much of the film’s iconic music such as Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time. There are 40 classic chart hits in total, mostly 80s favourites but also Carmen’s Habanerna. The Bizet number closes the first act with some brilliant choreography, making your feet want to dance their way to the bar where an aptly named “Tina Sparkle” cocktail named after one of the show’s characters is on offer. There’s comedy, drama and plenty of eye-popping costumes. The film was much loved and I have a feeling this kitsch stage version will be equally so.
Strictly Ballroom – The Musical
16 Denman Street