Craig Revell Harwood. He must have been the only serious candidate to direct this fab-u-lous musical version of the cult movie bringing a direct understanding of Aussie machismo and the bitchiness of competitive ballroom dancing as he also impeccably choreographed Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s book.
The opening number, Strictly Ballroom, is full of flamboyant partnerships opening up the dark, backstabbing world of competition dancing, and you shudder to think how long it took to sew the sequins on Mark Walters’ suitably over the top costumes.
This smart reworking of Strictly Ballroom – The Musical with new songs is the age-old tale of a rebel like young gun Scott Hastings determined to shake up the staid dance world, and by chance he teams up with ducking ugly duckling novice Fran – who by the mere act of removing her glasses turns into a raving beauty, and professional standard dancer.
Strictly Come Dancing champ Kevin Clifton is a ripped Scott, who not surprisingly dances beautifully all night, but more than holds his own in a strong ensemble. He’s a decent actor who draws on his obsession with the movie as a kid, and he can belt out a tune having appeared on Broadway and in the West End before lifting the famous glitterball.
Former Corrie star Faye Brookes – last seen here in Chicago – adds to her growing reputation as a very good all-round musical theatre performer adding depth to her solos, or more tempo group numbers like Aussie banger Love Is In The Air, and holds her own as a dancer given her partner is a world class hoofer. There is genuine chemistry between them that papers over some glaring plot holes.
There’s a pivotal scene where the arrogant dancer meets Fran’s Spanish family making a new life down under. He thinks he can do a Paso Doble until Jose Agudo as Fran’s dad shows him how a real man does it, and Karen Mann as her wise granny chips in as Scott realises dancing is more than just learning steps and waving your arms around.
The Aussie accents wander a bit, but there’s also plenty of laughs as Gary Davis’ dance fascist Barry Fife tries to stop our heroes running the Pan-Pacific final with their new moves, aided by Nikki Belsher who is fun as Scott’s mum Shirley with her rictus happy face.
Anyone looking for something deep has bought the wrong ticket, but there is something strangely uplifting in these troubled times watching a bunch of trained and talented dancers glide round Walker’s simple set strutting their stuff in tight fitting lyrca and mahogany spray tan.
A big cast are clearly having a lot of fun in a warm hearted and fun musical that is camp as hell – but always knowing – as battles and hearts are won and lost in seas of sequins and chiffon.
Strictly Ballroom is at Leeds Grand until Saturday 8 July. To book www.leedsheritagetheatres.com or 0113 243 0808.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 3rd July 2023
North West End UK Rating: