A review round-up for Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.
Drew McOnie’s dazzling production of Baz Luhrmann’s film-to-stage musical has opened at London’s Piccadilly Theatre starring Jonny Labey, Zizi Strallen and pop-star Will Young.
With multi-coloured costumes, feathers galore, fake tans and McOnie’s glorious choreography, Strictly Ballroom The Musical has split the critics.
It appears for some there’s too much glitz and stero-type characters at the expense of a production that should ultimately be a love story with a side of comedy but for others it’s a great ‘pick me up’ light-hearted affair that gets you dancing in your seat.
The musical comedy follows the plot of the hit film, with Jonny Labey playing the maverick championship ballroom dancer Scott Hastings, who defies the rules of the game to team up with left-footed partner Fran (Zizi Strallen), follow his heart and win the championships.
Will Young – in a cat-suite and moustache – plays the decadent compere of the evening alongside a cast that includes Richard Grieve, Eve Polycarpou, Ivan De Freitas and Fernando Mira.
The production features break-into-song numbers from the classic 1992 film including Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time, as well as wonderful new songs from internationally acclaimed artists and composers such as Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect.
Strictly Ballroom is directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, with set design by Soutra Gilmore, costume by Catherine Martin, lighting by Howard Hudson, and sound by Gareth Owen.
Read a round-up of reviews below.
Daily Mail, ★★★★
“Sequins, feather dresses, atrocious toupees, whitened teeth, ‘Love Is In The Air’ and Will Young in a soup-strainer moustache plus bulging black PVC trousers: the musical version of 1992 romantic comedy film Strictly Ballroom has no shortage of stereotypes.
The staging is a bit of a mess and the plot’s conflict of artistic repression by 1980s Australian rednecks feels decidedly vieux tutu. Yet the whole thing is done with enough self-teasing and infectious japery that the West End may have another successful morale-lifter on its hands.”
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
The Guardian, ★★
“Will Young entertains in a sequined catsuit but this laborious version of the charming film is a step in the wrong direction.
It does, however, yield the moment of ecstasy I look for in a musical. That comes when Fran’s father teaches Scott the paso doble. Fernando Mira, with his poker back, drumming heels and economy of movement, gives us a masterclass in Spanish dance and, unwittingly, upends the show’s thesis by proving the value of disciplined tradition.
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.”
Michael Billington, The Guardian
“This gleefully garish musical of Baz Luhrmann’s film is loads of fun. This overblown dance-led show sweeps you up with its sequins and silliness.
The second half feels less focused – largely due to some lame attempts at political resonance that feel simultaneously strenuous and lazy.
Still, it’s not a show too take too seriously, and there is much to enjoy. McOnie’s choreography is totally glorious, whether sending up the silliness of cheesy routines or firing up flamenco. And this is a dance-driven show: Young leads us through the story with songs, but the main characters aren’t lumbered with jukeboxing emotion – they signal feeling with their hips, not their lips.”
Holly Williams, The Independent
The Telegraph, ★★
“Will Young can’t save this vapid film spin-off.
Only those requiring minimal cerebral input will be enraptured by this bewilderingly vapid jukebox musical. It is so lacking in substance that it almost makes its predecessor at this theatre, Annie, look like the Ring Cycle by comparison. 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.
The idea is that spontaneity wins out over the mechanical – yet despite the redeeming adorability of central pair Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen – and much superb, slick, lithe choreography from Drew McOnie and the ensemble – it feels relentlessly manufactured and cynically feelgood. Think Romeo + Juliet minus heart and soul – but with fancier footwork.”
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
Evening Standard, ★★★
“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.
There’s an enervating sense of a thin storyline eked out too far, especially since the Scott/Fran pairing never has us fully aflame. The best news, by far, is Strallen, who exudes a lightness and brightness even when a mere face in the dance studio crowd early on. Her acting and dancing is impeccable; if she can sing as well as her older sisters, musical theatre actresses Scarlett and Summer, she has a very bright future on our stages.”
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard
The Stage, ★★
”‘Despite dazzling choreography, this musical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s iconic film disappoints.
This new West End version 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.
The trouble is the show doesn’t heed its own message: that ballroom dancing is about more than just slickness and flash. And we’ve seen this kind of story so many times before – from Billy Elliot to Footloose and Kinky Boots, even Cinderella – we need something more.”
Tim Bano, The Stage
The Times [paywall], ★★
“This musical reimagining of the film is cartoonish and a bit desperate.
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.”
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“This stage version of Baz Luhrmann’s much-loved Aussie film doesn’t feel as unique as it did on screen. Will Young’s decadent compere has a whiff of Cabaret’s Emcee about him. And the moment when our hero, championship ballroom dancer Scott, played by former EastEnder Jonny Labey, discovers his wallflower dance partner Fran (Zizi Strallen) comes from a family of hot-blooded paso doble-dancing immigrants, it’s as if the cast had sashayed into West Side Story.
There is, though, much here that fans of Luhrmann’s 1992 movie will enjoy. Not least the way his story both lampoons and loves the kitsch world of ballroom dancing, where dancers grin to the point of gurning.
This is a show with a lot of heart. Although arriving from Australia via the West Yorkshire Playhouse, it feels small in the West End.
Young sings beautifully but is underemployed by the 1980s pop-medley score. Strallen is excellent as the blossoming Fran and the lantern-jawed, athletic Labey is also very good, if you enjoy dance as an Olympic sport.
For me, only Fernando Mira as Fran’s paso doble-dancing dad has the moves to justify the price of a ticket. But then I admit I’m probably not ballroom dancing’s greatest fan, strictly speaking.”
John Nathan, Metro
Time Out, ★★★★
“A joyously eccentric musical take on Baz Luhrmann’s fabulous dancing yarn.
There’s so much that’s weird about ‘Strictly Ballroom – The Musical’ that it’s hard to know where to start. First up, it’s not really a musical at all. There’s barely a new song in sight – instead, the score is an ingenious piecemeal of hits, from Whitney Houston to REM to Robyn. And it’s sung almost entirely by Will Young, dressed up as a sort of haunted retro compere (think Che in ‘Evita’) with a handlebar moustache, spandex and, at one point, rollerskates. Perhaps the rest of the cast can sing too, but they’ve got bigger fish to fry: acclaimed choreographer Drew McOnie’s production puts all the focus on tirelessly energetic, amped-up ballroom routines and shamelessly exaggerated physical comedy.
Will Young’s voice can do it all – ethereal Whitney Houston covers, matinee-idol macho – but even so, the show relies heavily on his singing to add depth to the whippet-fast, chihauhua-light plot. The night I saw it, he marked the curtain call by sinking to the floor in a puddle of camped-up exhaustion. Still, if ‘Strictly Ballroom’ is indeed a bit tiring, it’s got enough talent and relentless invention to make it exhilarating, too. It’s halfway between a tribute to and a very, very silly send-up of a much-loved movie, whose cava-swilling fans will leave the theatre with a skip, slide and hop in their step.”
Alice Saville, Time Out
Strictly Ballroom The Musical is booking until 21 July 2018 at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.