Friday, 4 May 2018

 

Strictly Ballroom at the Piccadilly Theatre


As someone who grew up in the nineties I will always associate Baz Luhrmann with Romeo + Juliet (teenage me had a very big crush on Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo!), but the Australian writer, director and producer's work also includes Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom in his trio of outstanding musical films that have gained popularity far beyond its Australian roots. Though the first of the three – Strictly Ballroom – is perhaps the least known here in the UK, but with the dazzling theatrical adaptation opening in the West End that won't be the case for much longer.

It's the late 80s in rural Australia and Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey) is the star of the local dance studio. His mother and uncle were some of the most promising dancers of their generation, but never quite made it to the top so they push Scott to fulfill their dancing dreams. Scott is hugely talented, but he feels confined by the restrictions laid upon the sport by the Australian dance federation. Scott has a vision for new steps and he's not afraid to improvise. But will his rebellious streak win him ballroom glory or will he be cast out of the competition for good?

A protagonist rebelling against the dancing status quo may not be a new concept within musical theatre but Scott's stubborn perseverance and love interest Fran's (Zizi Strallen) easy charm make for a winning duo; the power of their dazzling dance solos amplified through Jonny and Zizi's electrifying performances.

Pop Idol winner Will Young plays a brand-new character who is part narrator occasionally breaking the fourth wall and part presenter taking on all of the singing. He is fabulous on the stage at the Piccadilly Theatre, showing off his vocal and comedic chops in equal measure. But despite Young's wonderful performance his character is a tad too present at times. This is supposed to be the story of Scott, and to a lesser extend Fran, breaking through the dancing confines laid upon them by the federation, and yet Scott isn't nearly as front and centre in the show as you'd expect.

And though Strictly Ballroom is marketed as a musical it isn't a traditionally sung-through one, in fact none of the cast besides Will Young get to sing. And with people in the cast like Zizi Strallen – who in recent years was in Mary Poppins, Follies and Rock of Ages – this feels like a missed opportunity. As a dance show it is hugely impressive and captivating, however, and with Scott's insistence to dance anything but federation approved steps it's also constantly surprising and takes the audience on an entirely different journey with each showstopping performance.

Strictly Ballroom is a dazzling feast for the eyes with fantastically choreographed dance numbers, outlandish costume designs, a stellar cast and a sweet love story lingering on the edges. Not strictly a musical, but heaps of fun nonetheless.


Strictly Ballroom is playing at Piccadilly Theatre and currently taking bookings until 20 October 2018. Book your tickets here.


🎵 Listening to: We The Kings – Check Yes Juliet


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