Strictly Ballroom, 15/05/2018; a review.

I got to see 'Strictly Ballroom' at the Piccadilly Theatre last night. I took Mama Latter; she seemed the best choice for this theatre date, as she's an Aussie and major fan of the film. She also insisted I take her, or else...

I personally am a major fan of Strictly Come Dancing, the brilliant 80s soundtrack, and Will Young. So before we even went in, I was sold.  

When Scott’s radical dance moves raise eyebrows with the Australian Federation, he finds himself dancing with Fran, a beginner who has no moves at all. Inspiring each other, the couple find the courage to defy both convention and their families – and discover that to be a winner, your steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom…

Adapted from Baz Luhrmann’s beloved and award-winning film, Strictly Ballroom has been transformed into a glorious stage musical. Combining the story’s heart, comedy and drama with white-hot dance, eye-popping costumes by four-time Oscar-winner Catherine Martin and over 40 classic chart hits including Time After Time, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps and Love is in the Air, director and choreographer Drew McOnie has created an unforgettable production that will make your heart soar and your feet want to dance!
(source: From the Box Office)

Upon arrival, we learned that we'd be seeing the understudy Wally Strand. This intrigued me, obviously, as Will Young has very much been the face of this show's publicity run up. I could only imagine the pressure the cover guy would feel. But OH MY, Ivan De Freitas absolutely nailed it. His voice, moves and brilliant down-to-earth style of presenting the story scene by scene (his casual 'oh, I think I've got Will Young's pants on!?' after the first number, and assuring the audience 'don't worry, I'm good!' when he stumbled on roller skates – precious!) 

I have so much to say about the acting in this show. It’s mad, because you’d think that would be less of a concern than, y’know, the dancing stuff – but wow, every performer had a sh*t ton of acting talent as well as some killer moves. I particularly loved Scott Hastings’ mama, Shirley, played by Anna Francolini. She was comedy and passion personified, and had the audience screaming with laughter as she delivered her lines. 

The wonderfully eccentric and multi-layered characters were portrayed flawlessly. A key thing for me was that gawky geeky Fran's elegant ‘transformation’ was particularly well done. It went slowly, not too obvious or cheesy – no big 'why Miss Elphaba, you're beautiful!' moments, thank goodness. Her gradual development of dance knowledge and confidence in herself was also brilliantly believable. 

I also came to really love and feel for Doug Hastings – the at first mysteriously vacant older man; obsessed with his plants, never quite finishing his sentences and always needing to refill the studio’s drinks machine. The whole way through, I was waiting for him to bust out of his shell. No spoilers, but...he arrives at just the right time. 

Okay, now onto the dancing. There was SUCH DANCING, guys. It was some of the best ensemble and individual dancing I’ve ever seen on stage. It seemed so effortless for the cast, as well, who shimmered in their sequinned outfits, oozed class and sass, and complemented each other perfectly. 

I mean, ballroom and Latin are all well and good, but when the dancers would low-key riot and mix it up now and again, throwing in moves of their own invention much to the outrage of the bratty, petty President (who resembled someone of high regard, but I just can’t think who…), that was what gave me real chills. Then when Scott comes across Fran’s family home, her roots, and is taught how to actually ‘feel the beat’ by her Abuela...that properly moved me. The way it was shown onstage, Scott closing his eyes and listening, the stage lighting changing and beautiful slow motion dancing happening around him as the beat trickled in...oh boy, infinite chills.

The staging throughout was really clever; actors and dancers would move the set around now and again to create new scenes, often while Wally came up to us and explained what was going on, and I really liked how in almost every scene there would be at least one member of the ensemble looking on, from the sidelines or up above on the beautiful scaffold structure that framed the stage. I also loved the fact that the band would be onstage at times, with performers moving amongst them (much like the arrangement in ‘Chicago’, the new show I also saw recently), and they continued playing for us after the cast took their bows.

I really liked the Piccadilly Theatre, too. The stalls were actually quite cosy and the stage was very close, so wherever one sat they’d feel like they were part of the action. Also, I don’t do this very often, but I simply have to shout out to the team working on the doors and floor last night. My goodness, they were all so kind and helpful. 

Wanna see this sensational show? It will be in the West End for definite until July, but personally, I could see it becoming a long runner.
Get your tickets now at From the Box Office!


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