BWW Review: GIOVANNI PERNICE: DANCE IS LIFE, Shaw Theatre
Giovanni Pernice is now somewhat of a stalwart amongst the professional dancer gang on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.
With four seasons under his belt and a fifth to follow, he is one of the show's most recognisable faces, and now returns to local theatres for the third year running with Dance is Life - first seen in 2017, but with a largely new army of supporting dancers.
Last year, I attended Born to Win and was mightily impressed. The production, choreographed by Jason Gilkison, was slick, feel-good and unexpectedly witty, and I was not surprised to see venues for this year's reprisal of Dance Is Life sell out quickly in many locations.
However, for all the polished routines and comic timing from Pernice, this production did not sweep me away to the same extent. The Shaw Theatre was too compact a venue, the ensemble dancing felt limited by the stage size, and aspects of the costume and set felt low-budget for the talent they showcased. A shame, as Pernice and his crew could thrill West End audiences night after night.
Born to Win was an exceptionally structured show that weaved dance routines into Pernice's life story - his childhood in Italy, and then moving to London and landing the job on Strictly. The set-up here is more vague.
The first act's Italian theme is charming enough and features vibrant and pacy routines to "Volare", "Mambo Italiano" and "Tu Vuo Fa' L'Americano". It includes a bouncy jive to Lou Bega's "I Gotta Girl", the finale sees the ensemble wave flags to represent their nationalities, and Pernice finishes up holding the American stars and stripes and gesturing to his Strictly girlfriend, Ashley Roberts, who was present for this Gala performance. As much as this show is not perfect, you can't help but be won over by Pernice's charm.
In another early segment, Pernice invites a female audience member on stage for a Lady and the Tramp-style date. His ability to ad lib and control the conversation to land his jokes is impressive here and had me half-snorting, half-cringing.
Last night's lucky victim was a lady called Jackie who wore a leopard-print top. "You look like a tiger tonight, darling," Pernice quipped. Cue cheesy romantic lighting, "That's Amore", and Jackie being lifted and swung around on her chair in between being hand-fed pizza by Pernice, and the tone for the evening was set.
Now an accredited professional on the BBC show, it was enjoyable to see commanding Russian dancer Luba Mushtuk take on a larger role. She leads a feisty female empowerment number that sees Pernice end up on the floor and Mushtuk exit the stage with a hair flick and a skirt swish. She is coy and likeable.
The supporting cast are strong too, most eye-catching of whom are former Strictly professional Trent Whiddon and his wife Gordana Grandosek-Whiddon, whose strong pedigree as 10 Dance champions shines through in a lyrical, contemporary rumba, with Grandosek in a billowing pink gown. The pair have a watchable chemistry and flow beautifully from one movement to the next.
The second act ramps up the theatrics, depicting the love story of how Pernice's grandparents met in the 1930s - although to a curiously contemporary soundtrack of Ricky Martin and Little Mix.
There's a rowdy nightclub scene to "Livin' La Vida Loca", where the men share stern looks and Pernice and Mushtuk's romance emerges. There's conflict and commotion and then the all-important barefoot (Mushtuk) rumba of reconciliation to "Too Lost in You". Pernice sets up the piece to demonstrate that "love always win [sic]", which is a sweet sentiment, just a little hammily portrayed here.
Pernice wraps up in signature deadpan style; "You want one more?" he asks the audience, who of course do. "Oh no, we are not prepared!" he gasps with faux concern, once again demonstrating witty comic timing. I only wish Pernice and team could drop the odd cliche and have a bigger stage and budget to showcase their artistry and the stylish choreography.
Dance is Life tours nationally until 6 April