Strictly Ballroom the Musical: Piccadilly Theatre, London
Reviewed 15th May 2018
Strictly Ballroom the Musical comes full of sequins, sparkle and spectacular dancing from its previous incarnations at West Yorkshire Playhouse and in Toronto in 2017 to take the London’s West End by storm. Directed and choreographed by dance extraordinaire Drew McOnie audiences can be sure of a great nights entertainment. Originally a hit film by Baz Luhrmann, Strictly Ballroom tells the story of Fran, a beginner to dancing, and Scott Hastings, ballroom dancing, future champion and rebel. The story is set to over 40 classic chart hits including ‘Time After Time’, ‘Love is in the Air’ and‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’.
This is certainly a fun musical. Feisty and lively, with characters as colourful as their costumes. The addition of a narrator with the character of Wally Strand, played brilliantly tonight by understudy Ivan De Freitas, helps those less familiar with the film understand the plot and definitely ensures it keeps pace.
The dancing is top-notch. Fast, vibrant and energetic. The talented cast certainly know how to put on a show for the audience! Drew McOnie’s clever choreography doesn’t let any moments go past untouched. The ensemble Pasodoble sequence in particular really enables the cast to show off their fantastic dance ability and showcase Drew’s innovative choreography. In addition, the finale dance routine is just spectacular.
The characters themselves are very over the top, almost caricature like, as they are in the original film. However after a while even the somewhat grating fake Australian accent can be overlooked as the audience get into the spirit of things. This is not a serious musical. The plot, remaining true to the film, is simple to follow and certainly receives lots of laughs and applause from the audience.
Jonny Labey shows off his amazing dance skills as Scott Hastings. Not only this but his acting is believable and realistic, especially his relationship with Fran. This makes him stand out from the other, more elaborate fake, characters and makes him instantly more relatable and likeable. Zizi Strallen excels as the shy-yet-determined Fran. No stranger to large dance shows, Zizi moves with grace around the stage but it is her conviction and commitment to the character that makes her so engaging.
Other notable cast members are Lauren Stroud who is fantastic as the diva Liz Holt, and Charlotte Gooch whose dancing is unbelievably impressive. All of the cast are exceptional dancers and most have been frequently seen on West End and international stages. This cast, or company as director Drew McOnie regards them, seem to be enjoying every minute and are definitely out to entertain.
Ivan De Freitas who played Wally Strand during this performance impresses with his stage presence. His vocals are good but felt, at times, a little muted and dull. The songs, all of which are well known, lacked power and passion at times. Despite the songs almost being shoe-horned in, generally they do work with the show and the audience members enjoy the juke-box selection of songs. However for a musical, this show lacks any big ensemble numbers with the songs being sung almost exclusively by Wally Strand. Perhaps the addition of some larger ensemble numbers, utilising this talented cast further may add the extra the wow factor?
The set, designed Soutra Gilmour, is bright and colourful. The set pieces are cleverly woven into the choreography and seamlessly move with the action. It is an interesting decision to have the band on stage – something that for this production works well. Lighting, by Howard Hudson, adds to this making the stage come alive with vibrant colours. The costumes, designed by Catherine Martin, are completely over the top – perfect for a stereotypical ballroom dancing competition. The dazzling array of costumes for the dancers are fantastic and cleverly designed to suit each character and pair of dancers. The headdresses themselves are enough to catch the eye, let alone the impressive, vivid dresses too.
This is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is about entertainment. It is cheesy, full of glitz and sparkle. Whilst it doesn’t have a meaningful message, it does provide a brilliant night out. A chance to esecape into the sequins and ‘glamour’ of ballroom dancing. To be whisked away. If this is what this show set out to do, then it’s certainly achieved it. For a fun night out Strictly Ballroom is certain to bring a smile to your face.
Photo Credit:Johan Persson