BWW Review: STRICTLY COME DANCING LIVE, Arena Birmingham
With the TV series having only finished in December, Strictly Come Dancing 2018 is still very much fresh in people's minds. Last night saw the opening of the arena tour in Birmingham, starring seven much-loved celebrities from the show, alongside an ensemble of professional dancers.
Presented by 2016 Strictly winner Ore Oduba, the format consists of two dances per couple plus a handful of group numbers and a few surprises. Oduba is a natural, charismatic host and successfully manages to sustain the high energy between routines.
This is the first tour since it began 12 years ago that all four judges have been present at the live arena shows - and what a difference it makes. Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli, Darcey Bussell and Craig Revel Horwood are the strongest panel Strictly has seen in a long time. They are rightfully given the opportunity to come out from behind their judges' desk to demonstrate their own skills, adding a new dynamic to this year's event. You'll have to wait until Act Two for all to be revealed, but it's worth the wait!
The celebrity line-up consists of reigning champion Stacey Dooley, Ashley Roberts, Dr Ranj Singh, Lauren Steadman, Joe Sugg, Graeme Swann and Faye Tozer. All perform with their original partners, except for Dooley, who dances with ladies' favourite Aljaz, and Swann with Karen Clifton. Additional professionals are also on hand to provide extra support and help fill the vast dancefloor during celebrity routines.
Each couple brings something to the table, whether it be comedy, romance or simply brilliant dancing. Highlights include Dooley's passionate paso doble (or 'paso Dooley') to "Malaguena", Tozer's stunning show dance to "Lullaby of Broadway", and Singh's shimmy-tastic Salsa to "Fireball".
The professionals also revisit their group dance to "Believer" by Imagine Dragons, originally performed in Week Two of the series. Not only is it immensely powerful (heightened by the brilliant sound design and pyrotechnics), it will always be remembered for being the first same-sex routine on the programme.
The winners of the opening night, as voted by the audience, were Joe and Dianne Buswell, irrespective of the fact Craig raised his '2' paddle for his Arctic Monkeys quickstep following a fall during the fast-paced routine.
In comparison to previous years, this tour has so much more vivacity. Adrenaline on the first night must help, but something has clicked into place, making it the best yet. My only criticism refers to the direction of the choreography on the main platform, as the staging is very much played to the back of the arena. It would have been nice to rotate the focus of the dances to allow all audience members to be equal spectators.
However, it is an evening of complete escapism, and the perfect night out for fans of the TV show.