BAZ LURMANN’S STRICTLY BALLROOM – THE MUSICAL
THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH UNTIL 4 FEBRUARY 2023
BOX OFFICE 01752 267222
RUNNING TIME – 2 HOURS 35 MINUTES – ONE INTERVAL
30 JANUARY 2023
Baz Lurmann’s 1992 film ‘Strictly Ballroom’ was made on a shoestring, but it has become a firm favourite and helped the world of ballroom dancing no end. Its story of an ‘ugly duckling’ achieving her dream as being a dancer with a more seasoned, but renegade partner is full of charm and laughs; many of which are borne of the broad characterisations from the cast.
The stage musical first appeared in Australia in 2011 and made the West End in 2018; this tour suffered from delays caused by Covid. The producers obviously have their eye on the hit TV show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and have cast former professional dancer participant Kevin Clifton, as Scott, in the lead alongside a previous contestant and Eastenders actor Maisie Smith as Fran.
The stage show follows the plot of the film pretty closely; just with quite a lot of songs added. A curious set – I really couldn’t work out what it was meant to be – along with some good projections, creates multiple venues fairly successfully and with good lighting and some inventive costumes, the show is good to look at.
At 94 minutes, the original film was contained and pacey; with a first half of over 80 minutes, the stage show is just egging the pudding just too much. The show has been altered quite a lot along its journey and to me it is still not right. Many of the songs – a combination of new and extant ones – add absolutely nothing to the proceedings except additional running time. A red pen is required.
The band are excellent and perform the music with pizzazz – sadly this is not reflected in all the singing; while the secondary characters and ensemble sing heartily and well, the two leads are not singers. Clifton just about gets away with it though his range and stamina are short of the mark. Smith fares worse; her voice is just not up to this; the range and control required are beyond her.
Sadly, I also found it difficult to hear most of Maisie Smith’s lines which she delivered at speed which, combined with her Australian accent resulted in a garbled mess. There is also no chemistry at all with Clifton, and so the relationship doesn’t work.
The highlight of the show by a country mile is the tremendous finale to the first half; an exhuberant and exhilarating Spanish dance lead by the tremendous Jose Agudo. So good is this that it almost feels like it is from another production altogether.
While the choreography of this number is impressive, the dancing in the rest of the show feels a little underwhelming and considering the choreographers are Craig Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison this is somewhat of a surprise. Revel Horwood also directs; it is workmanlike without adding too much flair.
Would it be better as a play with music and without all the songs? Who knows? But in its current form it is far too long. That said, it is an entertaining enough evening with an almost old-fashioned feel about it. It still has some of the charm of the film and the ensemble cast give it their all. A handy vehicle for the very popular Kevin Clifton, who dances very well, but maybe the ability to act and sing well should be the first priority in a piece of musical theatre.
CAST & CREATIVES
SCOTT HASTINGS – KEVIN CLIFTON
FRAN – MAISIE SMITH
SHIRLEY HASTINGS – NIKKI BELSHER/MICHELLE BUCKLEY
DOUG HASTINGS – MARK SANGSTER
BARRY FIFE – GARY DAVIS
LES KENDALL – QUINN PATRICK
JJ SILVERS – OLIVER BROOKS
RICO – JOSE AGUDO
ABUELA – KAREN MANN
WAYNE – KIERAN COOPER
VANESSA – MADDY AMBUS
LIZ – JASMINE JOY
TINA SPARKLE – AGNES PURE
KEN – BENJAMIN HARROLD
NATHAN – ADAM DAVIDSON
PAM – POPPY BLACKLEDGE
CHARM – JESSICA VAUX
WRITERS – BAZ LURMANN & CRAIG PEARCE
ORIGINAL SCORE – ELLIOT WHEELER
DIRECTOR – CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD
CHOREOGRAPHY – CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD, JASON GILKISON
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – MARK WALTERS
LIGHTING DESIGN – RICHARD G JONES
SOUND DESIGN – RORY MADDEN
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – DUSTIN CONRAD