Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom – The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome. To 5 November 2022. 3*** David Gray & Paul Gray. 

This is a romantic dance musical about a couple overcoming the barriers which stop them dancing how they want to dance. Scott lives in a cartoonish world of ballroom. He is full of talent and technique but oppressed by its artificial rules and regulations. He wants to be a real person; an authentic artist but doesn’t know how. He meets Fran who comes from a world full of Latin passion, but she has no technique: here they learn from and complete each other.  

It’s a touching and resonant story, but problematic from a dance-theatre perspective. Most of the first half of the show is set in Scott’s artificial world full of people for whom dance is about sterile technique. It is only when their worlds collide at the end of the first half that we finally get a really good, sustained sequence of choreography.

Fran’s father, played with passion and pride by Jose Agudo, teaches Scott a thing or two with a sizzling solo routine. Fran, Scott and then the whole company join in to tear up the floor in a no-holes-barred Habanera. While this is utterly exhilarating, it shines a light on the shortcomings of what has come before, which was sadly rather lacking. 

The production seeks to fill the good-dance-shaped void in the first act by filling every scene with a substantial number of superfluous people. The result is messy and confused. Kevin Clifton works hard to effectively convey Scott’s frustration with his life. Maisey Smith characterizes Fran beautifully and sings with a captivating freshness of tone. They have great chemistry and explore their burgeoning relationship with sensitivity and nuance. However, a roof-top scene which should be tender and delicate, is ruined when the stage suddenly fills with a chorus of singers who belt out Time After Time like it’s the Anvil Chorus.

Things improve after the interval. There are some great scenes where music, dance and drama come together to move the story forward. The evil machinations of Ballroom supremo, Barry Fife, played with relish and an impressive set of pipes by Gary Davis, are nicely paced. The show builds in a shapely fashion towards the climactic and cathartic Paso Doble where Maisie Smith finally gets to really strut her stuff. 

The strength of the second act shines a light on the weakness of the first act. One cannot help feel that if the production had focused more on the story at its heart, rather than trying to bury it in sequins, it might all have been more effective. Also, and many commented on this, did some of the dialogue have to be so screamy and shouty?


Scott Hasting – Kevin Clifton 

Fran – Maisie Smith 

Shirley Hastings – Nikki Belsher 

Doug Hastings – Mark Sangster 

Barry Fife – Gary Davis 

Les Kendall – Quinn Patrick 

JJ Silvers – Oliver Brooks 

Rico – Jose Agudo 

Abuella – Karen Mann 

Wayne – Kieran Cooper 

Vanessa – Maddy Ambus 

Liz – Agnes Pure 

Tina Sparkle – Danielle Cato 

Ken – Benjamin Harrold 

Nathan – Adam Davidson 

Pam – Poppy Blackledge 

Charm – Jessica Vaux 


Book – Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce 

Director & Co-Choreographer – Craig Revel Horwood 

Co-Choreographer – Jason Gilkison 

Set & Costume Designer – Mark Walters 

Orchestration & Musical Supervisor – Stuart Morley 

Lighting – Richard G. Jones 

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