The stage adaptation of the Baz Luhrmann classic is everything you expect this show to be: camp, glittery, fun, and maybe just a little bit trite.
London’s Piccadilly Theatre transports us to the glitzy world of 1980s Australia, complete with lycra, sequins, leg warmers, fake tan, and roller-skates, as dancing protégé Scott Hastings battles with his desire to break free of the chains of the dancing federation and dance the steps he wants to with the girl he wants to dance with.
Luckily, the spectacle doesn’t hide or disguise the brilliant performances of the leads and the ensemble in this show. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen are totally captivating performers both independently, and together, their highly energetic dance numbers and their touching scenes together really showcase their talent as performers. Charlotte Gooch, playing Tina Sparkle, throws herself fully at the role, pulling off some incredible routines for which she and Drew McOnie should be congratulated. Stephen Matthews plays a heartbreaking role as Doug Hastings, and there are also standout performances from Fernando Mira as Rico, and special mention must also go to Eve Polycarpou playing Fran’s ‘Abuela’; her voice is incredible, the belt she achieves over raging paso doble numbers and full orchestration is outstanding.
There are moments of genuine pathos in amongst the comedy, with certain sequences delivering a real emotional punch, as well some brilliant comic timing from the whole cast, helped along by the brilliant on-stage band.
As a musican, it’s such a joy to see the music form such an integral part of the story, and the band truly do justice to Simon Hale’s orchestrations, Ben Atkinson’s dance arrangements, and David Caddick’s vocal arrangements. It might be a jukebox musical, but where the aim of the show is for the dance to tell the story, there’s no reliance on the music for plot development, which, for a musical like this, is quite a novelty!
The set design, too, is a real treat, with Soutra Gilmour tapping into the industrial aesthetic that worked well on her previous productions (such as Urinetown at St James’). The cast forming an integral part of the scene changes, adding real stylistic flair to the production, with Catherine Martin’s beautiful costumes and Howard Hudson’s lighting designs ensuring that, what could have been an over the top kitsch aesthetic, was considered and balanced with the action and the music.
Despite all this, there’s no hiding the fact this isn’t the most original story, it’s another Romeo and Juliet, think West Side Story meets Hairspray, and whilst the script is humourous and well-paced, there are no narrative surprises. But, and this is the important thing, it kinda, doesn’t matter?
The actors tease, toy, and flirt with the audience, with Will Young even giving us a lap of honour, and when you combine this with the dazzling dance sequences, you stop noticing the weaknesses of the script and start enjoying the sheer fun that this show creates. You find yourself cheering, whooping, clapping, and booing, on your feet singing along as the confetti rains down, and then, who cares if it’s all a bit silly? This is feel-good theatre wrapped up in a fake tan and glitter and I LOVE IT.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical is showing at Piccadilly Theatre until 20 October. Click here to go their website and purchase tickets here.
Thomas Joy is a theatre-lover and musician. Follow him on now Twitter: