On a wet and windy night in Manchester, former Strictly Come Dancing champion Kevin Clifton is trying to raise the temperature with the delayed revival of Ballroom dancing phenomenon, Burn the Floor.
The show is a riotous celebration of dance, fusing traditional waltzes with fiery Latin Tangos; Quicksteps and Rumbas and some good old Rock and Roll to boot.
It’s been a two-year wait for tonight’s performance – with Clifton joking at what proved an ill-timed decision for him to quit Strictly for a life in the theatre, just weeks before stages went dark and Covid stole the spotlight.
But the show itself has been thrilling audiences for longer than some of tonight’s dancers have been alive, conceived 25 years ago at a birthday bash for Elton John.
There’s a slightly contrived start to proceedings with a skit showing the ensemble of dancers and musicians taking up alternative professions and hobbies during lockdown before being drafted back into the show. It’s amusing but feels a bit drawn out.
Finally, though the dancers glide onstage in sumptuous period ballgowns and wigs to waltz to Blue Danube, before being interrupted by what look like escapees from an S&M club, all leather-clad and chains, to bring something far more modern and magnetic to the stage.
Like every great group dance on Strictly, on which a lot of past and present members of the company have trod the floor, the choreography created by Peta Roby and Jason Gilkison allows each and every dancer to have moments to shine.
Sharp hip thrusts, stunning lifts and spins and – much to the audience’s delight – healthy lashings of sex appeal bring us a full programme of dancers at the top of their game. They are ably supported by a live band and two superb singers, Chase Kamata and Tyler Azzopardi, wowing the audience with respective covers of Natural Woman and Hallelujah, amongst other numbers.
The proceedings have regular (sometimes a touch repetitive) interludes from Clifton, expressing his joy and enthusiasm for a return to theatre and doing what he loves best with fellow dancers he clearly adores.
He acknowledges his veteran status, jokingly refusing to take his shirt off for fear of looking inferior to the other gentleman of the cast (“Have you seen how many abs they have?” he wails).
But it feels rather unfair to suggest Clifton is merely keeping up with the younger crowd; more that he gives as good as he gets; a generous player who doesn’t use his star billing to hog the floor, even as he takes on a dual role of lead vocals in some numbers. If the producers of We Will Rock You are looking for their next leading man, his rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody would be quite the audition.
It’s a company show though, and we are treated to a dazzling array of skilled, slick choreography, wonderful costumes and excellent lighting and effects to focus our attentions on the twirling bodies in front of us – no mean feat given the voluminous proportions of the Bridgewater Hall.
Further highlights include a fantastic tango sequence to a selection from Bizet’s Carmen, a pair of beautiful duets to Il Giorno and Stairway to Heaven, and the highly energetic finale double of Let Me Entertain You and Ballroom Blitz – the latter containing some of the most fun choreography of the night, with no objection from the audience that it’s given about eight encores; neither cast nor crowd seems to want the show to end.
This isn’t a night for subtlety or one that requires following a nuanced plot threading the numbers together, but it is bucketsful of fun. Clifton is a charismatic MC and it would be no surprise if he and his crew have left one or two scorch marks in their wake.
The show is on tour till February 19th – visit https://www.kevincliftontour.com/tickets
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 14th February 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★