Bursting onto the West End with glitter and sequins galore, Strictly Ballroom is a fabulously fiery new production that is bound to sweep you off your feet.
Based on Baz Luhrmann’s iconic 1992 film, it’s a story about breaking out of the norm and using your creativity. When ballroom dancer Scott Hasting’s dreams of dancing his own steps, he is forced to dance ‘strictly’ ballroom if he wants to take home a trophy. Sheltered by his pushy mother, he feels constricted and unable to express himself through dance.
When he meets a shy young girl called Fran who frequently goes unnoticed, she begs for a chance to dance with him, and when they dance together it sparks chemistry. Jonny Labey plays the role of Scott Hastings with a sincere charm that captures the hearts of the audience. With his passionate and expressive movement, he guides Fran through each step and as her confidence grows, a dancer is born.
There is no doubt Zizi Strallen is an exceptional talent, but her performance as Fran is nothing short of spellbinding. With slick, dynamic movement that is oozing with sultry seduction, Stallen captures the role impeccably to create an utterly mesmerising and entirely faultless performance as she transforms from ugly duckling to star.
The production takes a different style of musical theatre with most musical numbers being sung by Will Young as Wally Strand. Acting as the host and narrator of the performance, he takes on the newly created role for the production. Cleverly orchestrated, he takes the audience on a journey by carrying the narrative of the show. Although he doesn’t interact with any of the characters, the way he is interwoven within the story is remarkably fluid.
Young has gorgeous vocals that wrap around the classic anthems such as Dancing With Myself, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and Dancing In The Street. With a tone charged with style and flair, he interjects a depth of layers into each song, highlighting the emotion. However, Young is the main vocalist of the show alongside some backing from the ensemble. When we do get a glimpse of the cast’s vocals they are sublime and it seems a shame not to utilise them more.
What it lacks in full-belt, six-part harmony, musical numbers, it makes up for in slick, sassy and vibrant choreography. Drew McOnie has excelled himself with his excellently theatrical and imaginative movement. McOnie strikes the perfect balance between the lavish and extravagant numbers and the sharp intimacy of Jonny and Fran’s impassioned duets, such as the captivating ‘Time After Time’ montage as Scott’s teaching Fran to dance.
The cast are superbly strong and each character bursts with real personality. Excellently animated, Gary Watson is wonderfully camp and has the audience howling with laughter as ballroom champion Ken Railings. Equally, Charlotte Gooch pulls out some mind-blowing moves as dance extraordinaire Tina Sparkle. However, it is Anna Francolini who steals the show with her flawless comedy timing as Scott’s overbearing mother Shirley Hastings. Likely to have invented the phrase ‘dance mom’ back in 1992, she brings tremendous humour to the show.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a national sequin shortage after the magnificent creations costume designer Catherine Martin has created for the show. The dazzling colours create a visual spectacle on stage to mirror the immense energy from the whole cast.
Strictly Ballroom is exceedingly funny and boasts electric choreography with a beautiful story of self-expression at the heart. It’s a glorious production and the cast’s high energy creates a joyous and eccentric musical that is the perfect addition to the West End.
Strictly Ballroom is on at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End, information can be found online here.