A CurtainUp London Review
Strictly Ballroom the Musical
Jonny Labey who stars in Strictly Ballroom as Scott Hastings is a professional actor and dancer who trained at Doreen Bird College in Sidcup. He won an ITV talent show for professional dancers called "Dance Dance Dance" in 2017 where he and his partner devised their own routines. The new show sticks pretty much to the movie story line with Will Young as Wally Strand, the compere and singing the well known tunes from musicians as diverse as The Pointer Sisters, Billy Idol, Bob Marley, Cindi Lauper and Bizet. In terms of boxes ticked, the music for Strictly Ballroom is familiar and exciting.
The villain of the piece is the head of the Australian Dance Federation, Barry Fife (Gerard Hogan, last seen as a priest in The Ferryman) who condemns Scott's rebellious dance steps because they break with tradition. With Fran as his partner, a very zany Zizi Strallen, Scott will take on the dancing establishment leading up to the Pan Pacific contest. Fran's Spanish father Rico (Fernando Mira) will demonstrate the immensely exciting Pasa Doble. A side story is about Scott's downtrodden father Doug Hastings (Stephen Matthews) who is henpecked by his wife, the ambitious ballroom teacher Shirley Hastings (Anna Francolini).
The director and choreographer is the talented Drew McOnie who since initially being a part of Matthew Bourne's troupe has gone on to bring exciting and original choreography to musicals as different as In the Heights, Jesus Christ Superstar and On the Town. I am sure I will not be the first person to call him the new Bob Fosse. New York will see his show when he directs and choreographs King Kong this Fall.
The show opens with Aretha Franklin's song "Think" which we know for its strong "Freedom" refrain as we see pairs of dancers in Elastoplast (Band Aid) coloured spangled body suits. They illustrate the technique adopted by competitive ballroom dancers to limit the space available to other couples by using large circling whirls. Scott is told off for deviating steps and he loses his partner Liz Holt (Lauren Stroud) to Ken Railings (Gary Watson) after Ken's partner had a car accident.
Odd looking Fran eventually gets Scott to listen to her request to dance with her and here we see a really good dancer dancing badly with aplomb. It is very clever and entertaining and beautifully choreographed. Fran's Spanish family are none too happy about her choice of dancing partner but a visit to them has her father Rico putting Scott through the Pasa Doble paces which is high octane and for my money the best scene in the show.
At the interval I was loving this show, especially the creative dance and the developing relationship between Scott and gawky Fran, but after the interval was rather a disappointment. The second half felt more contrived, obvious and tawdrily sentimental as Doug spruces up and renews his marriage with the awful Shirley. Combined with the dance contest fixing the final act feels more like a cartoon than reality.
The garish costumes are lavish, (it's Australia so ostrich feathers are easy to obtain) as are the extreme wigs and the sets seem to have Coca Cola advertisements everywhere. Catherine Martin designed the costumes for the film and takes the honours here.
Jonny Labey is a star dancer, an attractive personality as Scott and so is Zizi Strallen showing her comic acting ability as well as her dance skill. There seemed to be a genuine growing chemistry between them. It is unusual for a musical to have stars who are not called upon to sing but these two act and dance really well.
So leave your taste aesthetic at home and enter into the brash spirit of Strictly Ballroom for a fun filled evening with some spectacular dance.
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Strictly Ballroom the Musical
Creator and Book Writer: Baz Luhrmann
Book Writer: Craig Pearce
Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie
Starring: Jonny Labey, Zizi Strallen, Will Young, Anna Francolini, Gerard Hogan, Stephen Matthews, Fernando Mira, Eva Polycarpou, Gary Watson
With: Michelle Bishop, Ivan De Freitas, Gabriela Garcia, Charlotte Gooch, Liam Marcellino, Lauren Stroud, Chrissie Brook, Dale White, Jacob Maynard, Selina Hamilton, Freya Rowley, Luke Jackson, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda, Justin-Lee Jones, Leanne Pinder, Dale White
Set Design: Soutra Gilmour
Costume Design: Catherine Martin
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy and Jeremy Barlow
Musical Director: Ben Atkinson
Musical Supervisor: David Caddick
Music Consultant: Anton Monsted
Musical Arrangements: Marius de Vries
Orchestrator: Simon Hale
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Lighting Design: Howard Hudson
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7630
Booking to 20th October 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th April 2018 performance at the Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7DY (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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