Strictly Ballroom, Wales Millennium Centre

January 24, 2023 by

This musical is based on the hugely successful film of 1992, directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann (though the film itself was based on a play first devised by Luhrmann in 1984). This was years before the phenomenon of Strictly Come Dancing, but the effect of the BBC TV show is fully felt. Not only is this production directed by Craig Revel Horwood (who has co-choreographed it with fellow-Australian Jason Gilkison, director of choreography on Strictly), it stars in the leading roles professional dancer Kevin ‘from Grimsby’ Clifton and actress Maisie Smith, who took part in the show in 2020, and reached the final with her partner Gorka Marquez. The musical version of the film was first staged in 2014, well after the global success of the TV show and no doubt reflecting its popularity.

For those who have seen the film – and presumably that was most of the audience packed into the WMC on Monday night – the plot needs no introduction. For those who haven’t, it focuses on iconoclastic dancer Scott Hasting’s quest to find a new dance partner and dance his own steps in the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. A solution comes in the unlikely shape of Fran, a neglected beginner. Inevitably romance also raises its head, but there is much fun to be had along the way, involving the families of Scott and Fran, the other dance professionals, and the controlling Barry Fife, head of the Australian Dancing Federation


Image by Ellie Kurttz

Fully embracing the camptastic delight of the film, the musical also attracts an audience by the casting of the two leads, with Kevin Clifton as Scott and Maisie Smith as Fran (above). Maisie proved a comic and appealing delight, dancing well of course but also singing sweetly, and displaying unexpected physical humour. I can’t comment on Kevin as he did not take part in the production on Monday, but I can only praise his stand-in Edwin Ray who proved a worthy Scott, attractive and talented. This is an ensemble piece though, and all the cast performed with verve and aplomb. Particularly touching was Karen Mann as Fran’s grandmother Abuela, who held her own and played a key role in the story. Gary Davis as a Trumpian Barry Fife was memorable too, as also was Mark Sangster as Scott’s dad, who gets his chance to shine towards the end of the show. His routine with Barry Fife and coach Les Kendal (Quinn Patrick) was a highlight of the evening.

The music itself was a mix of new and popular songs, such as well-known hits Time after Time and Love is in the Air. An outstanding section was the Paso Doble segment with Fran’s father Rico (Jose Agudo) and friends. The set is also worthy of praise. A simple hollowed-out pumpkin-like (Cinderella came to my mind) frame provides the space, augmented by projections on a screen at the back, to good effect. I also liked the fact that details of specific locations emerged from the ‘ribs’ of the pumpkin.

Overall, this is an entertaining night out, with a clear message (a life lived in fear is a life half-lived), though the amount of F words might surprise some members of the audience. I’m inspired to watch the film again, and re-experience its delightfulness.

Until January 28


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