Review Roundup: STRICTLY BALLROOM Waltzes to the West End
Strictly Ballroom has waltzed its way to the West End! Strictly Ballroom is the romantic story that was embraced around the world, and went on to put the Strictly into Come Dancing! Based on the multi award-winning movie, the first installment from Baz Luhrmann's acclaimed Red Curtain Trilogy, the musical production is a kaleidoscope of color and fun.
When rogue championship ballroom dancer Scott defies all the rules of competition to follow his heart, he teams up with left-footed partner Fran to compete in the Pan Pacific Championship his own way. Their love blossoms as their routines flourish, and together they triumph in bringing down the sequin-clad regime of the Dance Federation.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: But like that other hit Strictly franchise, we're more interested in the journey than the trophy, and here the show certainly delivers. Plus Craig Revel Horwood could only dream of a putdown like the one supplied by Eve Polycarpou's impudent grandmother: "Hot Stuff can shake his tail feather, but he knows chickenshit about rhythm." Watching these characters gradually find - and trust - their own rhythm is a fab-u-lous, feel-good pleasure.
Michael Billington, Guardian: While Mira, aided by Eve Polycarpou as Fran's gran, ushers us into another world, we are soon back in that of corrupt ballroom competitions. It is a sign of the show's lazy liberalism that the dance federation's tradition-worshipping president, played by Gerard Horan in an orange wig, declares: "Maybe I'll go into politics." Since Donald Trump has got where he is by breaking all the rules, the joke makes little sense and symbolises the production's benign vulgarity.
Holly Williams, The Independent: Under Drew McOnie's direction, the first half is drum-tight, however. Physical performances might seem buffoonishly large, but they're actually precision tooled; lines and laughs hit their targets. And there's some genuine slow-burn chemistry between Zizzi Strallen's dorky, adorable Fran and Jonny Labey's driven, deadpan Scott.
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: It's an odd confection, this production directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie. Given that screenplay writers Luhrmann and Craig Pearce are now the book writers, it's a faithful recreation of the original narrative about rebellious Scott Hastings (Jonny Labey, winner of ITV's Dance Dance Dance) who is determined to use his own non-regulation dance steps as he competes for the prestigious Pan-Pacific title with frumpy-turned-fabulous new partner Fran (Zizi Strallen). Yet despite the meticulous replication, gone is the easy charm of the film, to be replaced by a slightly desperate air of forced jollity beneath the amply applied fake tan.
Dominic Maxwell, The Times: When a smart producer added the first word of Baz Luhrmann's breakthrough film Strictly Ballroom to an old format called Come Dancing, the resulting hybrid became one of the greatest television hits of the 21st century. Can this musical reimagining of the 1992 Australian romantic comedy keep dancing - or singing, or sashaying, or goofing around - in quite the same world-beating way? I can't see it.
Matt Wolf, The Arts Desk: The issue, as is often the case with period pastiche, is one of tone. Are McOnie and book writers Luhrmann and Craig Pearc, attempting to expand upon their 1992 celluloid source (which itself began in fact as a play), or send it up, or merely perpetuate a brand? And what for heaven's sake are we to make of the omnipresent Will Young (pictured below), who hovers in and around proceedings like some sort of diluted version of the Emcee he has played several times over in Cabaret? (His character has been added to the show since its West Yorkshire tryout several Christmases ago.)
Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: Where the film had novelty and cinematographic élan, the theatrical spin-off contents itself with an abundance of blindingly garish costumes and the gurning caricature of types pushy, inept and twangingly -accented. Our would-be rule-breaking hero Scott finds a gauche new partner Fran - courting the disapproval of those around them - to bid for championship victory; a romantic gesture reciprocated when she introduces him to her gruff Spanish father who winningly tutors him in the macho art of the paso doble.
Tim Bano, The Stage: This new West End version, however, is slack where it should be tight - crucially in its comedy - and slick where it should be loose. It does a disservice to both of the film's great strengths. The characters know that they and their world are grotesque, they play lines for laughs, and so suck the humour out of them. In trying so hard to be funny, the show comes across as cold and calculating instead.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson