Strictly Ballroom was the Baz Luhrmann classic which inspired that BBC dancing show, and now the award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie presents the story as a West End show.
The central plot remains the same as the film, whereby a formal dancer eschews his ‘strictly ballroom’ training to make it big pursuing alternative types of dance which feel more personal.
Australian ballroom dancer Scott picks up novice Fran as he heads into the prestigious Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship, finding her willingness to break the mould with new dance moves appealing.
Their moves have to impress Trump-esque figure Barry Fife, head of the Australian Federation and staunch dance competition traditionalist.
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Fife is plainly similar to Trump in his stubborn unwillingness, but the character’s jokes feel like they’re cashing in on the thin Trump similarities, rather than presenting a rounded depiction of judge Fife.
Will Young plays bandleader Wally Strand, a new character who didn’t appear in Luhrmann’s film.
Strictly Ballroom isn’t actually a musical – rather, Will Young sings songs between dancing scenes as he jigs the narrative along.
The effect feels unusual, but for what we lose in moments of singing and dancing, we gain with the ease of Young’s virtuoso performances.
Elsewhere, the surreality of Luhrmann’s frankly odd film (which was a success) can be felt, but is rarely convincing. While the dance numbers tear up the stage, there is something missing where Strictly’s warmth and charisma should be.
West End favourites Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen are well capable as loved-up dancers Fran and Scott, but a less-than-rousing troupe of supporting characters try to add comic weight, but jokes fall short and the plot feels thin and fragmented.
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Will drops in with a ballad to pep things up here and there, which he does, but the addition of his character fragments further a set of characters that already feel like a stretch.
However, Soutra Gilmour’s lavish set shines neon-bright, saturated with props and zany characters – it’s a shame Craig Pierce’s writing struggles to make the characters feel authentic when the cast is this thrillingly good at dancing.
The bright costumes and killer lead performances expose the lack of purpose of these characters, who are a joy to watch but fail to capture Luhrmann’s daftness on stage.
Then when Young encourages audience members to stand at the final number, it feels like a contrived move to land a standing ovation, it spoke of a general lack of subtly in the production overall.