Imagine dancing all your life, becoming one of the best Ballroom and Latin dancers in the country, and then getting a phone call from the Strictly Come Dancing production team…only for them to ask for your (now ex) wife.
That’s the amusing moment we see played out by Neil Jones, one of ‘Strictly’s’ pro veterans (who did get his own call) as we are introduced to our ensemble tonight.
‘Strictly Presents…’ is an extension of the live tour that followed the behemoth BBC show, which itself continues to draw in millions of viewers each series.
Former celebrity contestants Maisie Smith and Rhys Stephenson join a team of four ‘Strictly’ Pros (Jones, Cameron Lombard, Jowita Pzystat and Nancy Xu) alongside fellow alumnus Max George from The Wanted providing a few musical turns throughout the evening.
It provides light-hearted insight into what it’s like to take part in the show, as well as a whistle-stop tour through the crowd’s favourite ballroom and Latin dances.
Proceedings kick-off with the familiar intro music before an energetic group dance to ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’. We then see a charming sketch with each performer recreating the moment they ‘get the call’ to compete for their chance to hoist the famous Glitterball before giving us a quick blast of choreography – from cha chas to foxtrots via rhumbas and jives.
The team also takes pleasure in poking fun at the beloved show and each other, from impressions of Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly, through to lifting the curtain on the realities of training, with Przystat chasing George round the stage with implements of ever-increasing size – stick, to metre ruler, to cricket bat – to ‘coach’ him into shape.
The dances themselves come in short bursts, with our celebrities showing that they have certainly kept up the skills developed over weeks and months of intense training for the live shows. Whilst some of the most impressive moves are kept within the pro choreography – and they are certainly sharper and more precise in their overall performance – both Smith and Stephenson clearly hold their own with the relentless stream of sambas, waltzes and tangos, not to mention a few speedy costume changes that Bucks Fizz would be proud of.
Highlights include the routines between Przystat and Lombard, the strongest dancers in the ensemble along, and a sensational zombie-themed group Charleston to a re-worked cover of Thriller kicking off the second half.
George’s songs are well received and woven nicely into the programme, and a duet with Smith of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ gets a big cheer and gives a peek into Smith’s vocal chops ahead of her joining another former Strictly fave, Kevin Clifton, in ‘Strictly Ballroom’ the Musical this autumn.
It’s an enjoyable celebration of an institute of British telly but, despite the branding, the glitzy set and the familiar tones of Alan Dedicoat providing voiceovers, it does sometimes tip into an end of the pier cabaret vibe, perhaps not helped by an attempted singalong to ‘Beside the Seaside’ that falls rather flat, nor the looming shadow cast by the far superior Burn the Floor’s impending reunion tour next month. If you’ve seen that show, this will feel a bit of an inferior cousin.
Case in point is George’s rendition of Mr Bojangles, done far better by Clifton in Burn the Floor which also came without the distraction of Cameron whizzing a walking cane around like he’s attempting to fight off a gang of invisible ninjas.
Nevertheless, there is clearly great camaraderie amongst the ensemble, and the audience of New Brighton are certainly vocal in their appreciation, as they get to their feet for the closing megamix. And there’s no doubt that, as long as ‘Strictly’ retains its National Treasure status, there will be plenty of adoring fans willing the team to ‘Keep Dancing’ for quite a long time to come.
Reviewed by: Lou Steggals
Review date: 29th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★