Tuesday, May 28

Strictly Ballroom – Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Back in 1992, director Baz Luhrmann brought the world of competitive ballroom dancing into the cinematic spotlight with his hit film ‘Strictly Ballroom’.  Covered in fake tan and sprinkled with sparkles, the lovingly satirical Australian film offered an entertaining glimpse into a high-pressured world with its on-stage rules and off-stage dramas.  It half-inspired the title of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and has since gone on to inspire its own stage musical.  First seen in the UK in its Leeds tryout prior to a short-lived West End run, the production has been reworked and is now midway through a successful UK tour.

Scott Hastings (played by ‘Strictly’ favourite Kevin Clifton) has grown up in a family of dancers, craving the freedom to dance his own steps and frustrated in being confined by competition rules.  His unconventional moves make him a target for federation head Barry Fife (Gary Davis), and cause Scott to lose a championship along with his partner.  As the next competition looms, Scott’s mum Shirley (Nikki Belsher) and coach Les (Quinn Patrick) frantically try to find a replacement for Scott to dance with, while at the same time a chance encounter brings the beginner Fran (Maisie Smith) into Scott’s life.  Her awkward enthusiasm for wanting to dance Scott’s way creates a connection that they can’t deny, but when Fife arranges for Scott to dance with established champion Tina Sparkle (Danielle Cato) instead, Scott and Fran’s dance may be over before it’s begun.

‘Strictly Ballroom’ translation to the stage has a lot going for it.  Like the film, it’s fun, keeping things light with engaging characters, and also ensures that its parodying sense of humour stays just on the right side of the stereotypes (Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s original film script forms the basis of the book here).  Fans of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ should find themselves particularly happy, not only with the appearance of Kevin Clifton, but also with Craig Revel Horwood directing and also co-choreographing the show Jason Gilkison.  All of this results in the show feeling hugely authentic, with this creative trio fully utilising their extensive knowledge of this world and really bringing it to life for the audience.  The love of dance is felt throughout every beat of the show, helped further by typically glamourous costumes (Mark Walters) which really sell the dance sequences.  The pace does lag at times, and the simplistic story only has so many miles in it before it runs out of steam in the second half, but it’s a mostly engaging journey that remains enjoyable throughout.

Photo: ©Ellie Kurttz

Musically, ‘Strictly Ballroom’ is a mix of original songs (written and arranged by Elliot Wheeler), and a handful of famous songs taken from the film’s memorable soundtrack.  The new additions are unfortunately mostly unremarkable, with only “Shooting Star” (a solo for Scott) and “Beautiful Surprise” (a duet with Fran) standing out.  The established songs fare better, with “Time After Time” and “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” both creating beautiful moments within the show, and “Love Is In the Air” ending everything on a glittering high.

Fans of ‘Strictly’ will know that ‘Strictly Ballroom’ is Kevin Clifton’s favourite film, and that the role of Scott Hastings is a huge bucket-list tick for him.  This love is abundantly evident in Clifton’s performance, and he’s fantastic, leading the show confidently while also showing off his incredible level of dance talent that he’s worked a lifetime to achieve.  Also a surprisingly good singer, Clifton doesn’t shy away from the bigger notes and sells his musical numbers really well.  While he’ll never be a Phantom or a Valjean (probably), he’s a great fit for musical theatre and does himself proud here.  Maisie Smith also shows great timing and likeability as an actress, making Fran massively likeable with endearing awkwardness.  Like Clifton, her voice also comes as another surprise, and this is sure to be the first of many musical roles for her.  Special mention must also go to Jose Agudo as Fran’s father Rico, who gives an incredible paso doble masterclass which leaves the audience enraptured.

‘Strictly Ballroom’ won’t win any awards for Best Musical any time soon, but as a celebration of the love of dance, it owns its place underneath that glitterball.  With two strong leading performances which will surpass many expectations, it’s a fun and warm-hearted show that delivers what it sets out to do and encourages its audience to “keeeeeep dancing” along to its well-intentioned rhythm.

‘Strictly Ballroom’ runs at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 18th February 2023, before continuing its UK tour until Summer 2023.

Performance runtime 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

https://www.grandtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

Reviewer: Rob Bartley

Reviewed: 13th February 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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