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Apr 4th, 2018
With a sleazy accent, a sequinned romper suit, a cheeky smile and his famous pipes, Will Young presides with glee over an uncanny cast in this fabulous adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's 1992 film about chaos in the amateur ballroom dancing leagues of small town Australia.
Transferring to London after success in Sydney and Toronto, this production from Luhrmann, Craig Pearce and Drew McOnie is an instant winner. Taking a cue from the films' deliciously high camp tone, this is Panto meets Priscilla Queen of the Desert, with some fantastic dancing talent thrown in for good measure.
For those that haven't treated themselves to the film, Strictly Ballroom is the the story of Open Amateur competitor Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey, swoon), the last hope of his hysterical dance teacher mother Shirley (Anna Francolini) and wallflower father Doug (Stephen Matthews). Shirley just wants him to raise the Hastings name from the gutter to the stars and win the Championship, but Scott, the young gadabout, keeps losing points for dancing his own non-federation steps. Much to his mother's increasingly more hilarious nerves and invoking the ire of petty politics of 'strictly ballroom', as ruled over by past Open Amateur winner Barry Fife (a supremely silly Trumpesque Gerard Horan). Enter Fran (Zizi Strallen), the Beginner, whose Spanish upbringing helps to fan the flames of Scott's rebellion to a frenzy. Add double crosses, long-held family secrets, the most glittery costumes this side of 42nd Street, and a sweet love story and you've got yourself an infectiously fun night out at the theatre.
Not actually a musical on its release, Luhrmann and co (David Caddick and Ben Atkinson) have retroactively 'Moulin Roug-ed' the story, adding Will Young (clearly having a lot of fun drawing wonderfully on his EmCee experience) to narrate and to sing the threaded together score, with 80s and 90s hits - some full, some extracted - to great effect. Nothing seems out of place and to have added full-scale sing-a-longs might have been somewhat too much for an already bursting story.
But like any rom-com the proof is in the lurve story, one which Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen seem to have no difficulty navigating, utterly believable in this zany spectacle, combining Strallen's instant likability and deft comic timing with Labey's dancing feet. I loved watching them interact, but special mentions goes to Stephen Matthews as Doug - the elder Hastings stifled by his own creativity - he literally steals the show every time he's on stage, leading to an unforgettable big number. Elsewhere, the big guns come out with Fernando Mira as Fran's stern father who dances a mean Paso Doble.
Though there were a few accent issues at this preview, it looks like they'll be ironed out before opening night and even if what you hear isn't tip-top there is plenty to love in the periphery, with Soutra Gilmour's sets and Catherine Martin's costumes raising this from 'movie-to-musical jukeboxer' to 'theatrical extravaganza'.
Alongside my friend, a gruff straight white man but admitted fan of the original movie, I expected some stony silence, but as he enthused about his first musical experience afterwards, (the choreography 'spot on', the leads' chemistry 'incredible'), declaring it 'pretty much hilarious' my little lovie heart sung. This bonkers yet universally appealing romp proves that a beginner does have the right to approach an open amateur after all.
Strictly Ballroom is now showing at the Piccadilly Theatre.
View our show pages for more information about Strictly Ballroom, Piccadilly Theatre.
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