Strictly Ballroom The Musical
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 6 May 2023
Based upon the 1992 Baz Luhrmann film, Strictly Ballroom appears at the Newcastle Theatre Royal this week, with a book by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce and directed by Craig Revel Horwood. Given that the movie influenced the Come Dancing Reboot Strictly Come Dancing, it is no surprise to see Strictly’s Kevin Clifton, a professional dancer who was in 2019’s winning pair, in the lead role.
The show is a fairy tale with a massive dose of other influences. Scott Hastings (Kevin Clifton) is a leading light in the Australian competitive dance scene. He decides to add some new crowd pleasing moves to his routine which leads to the wrath of judge Barry Fife (Gary Davis). As a result he, and his partner Liz (Liv Alexander) lose a competition.
Behind every competitive young dance star is usually a pushy parent and this comes in the form of Scott’s mother Shirley (Michelle Buckley) who teaches at a Ballroom Dance Studio. By contrast his Dad Doug (Mark Sangster) is a more meekly mild mannered gent who goes more with the flow. Shirley is none too impressed by her son going off-script and improvising his own dance steps.
Liz heads off to make up a new partnership leaving Scott needing a new partner. Whilst his folks, and Barry Fife, want him to form a new partnership with experienced Tina Sparkle (Agnes Pure) there is another option putting herself forward.
Now when I called this a fairy tale at the start of the review - the rags to riches element comes in the form of Fran (Faye Brookes) who has hung out at the dance studio for the past two months and still has an awful lot of basics to learn. But - and this is the whole point - as a novice she is willing to take on new ideas and innovate.
Of course, in this well worn trope, there has to be a levelling up between Scott and Fran and this occurs back at Fran’s home when the suggestion of performing the Paso Doble is quickly followed by a lesson (humiliation) by her father Rico (Jose Agudo) and grandmother Abuela (Karen Mann).
This is an entertaining production. As someone with no interest in the television programme and has not seen the film - this tale had to stand up on its own for me. It successfully did this. The storytelling is well executed without labouring the exposition too much.
The show looks fabulous. Mark Walters has created both glamorous costumes and a clever set design that allowed the action to flow. The lighting design from Richard G Jones is very much a part of the set and helps set the mood in a number of the scenes. At two hours plus interval the show was well paced.
A decision had been made to keep the band out of sight until, and this was a nice measure, they all appeared at the end. Too often it is just the musical director that appears in such circumstances. The band were able to work with the action of stage and vice versa.
The dancing is, of course, a major element. I did comment, in the interval, that 8 shows a week must be brutal of the physical demands of the dancers. There are no weak links in either the dancing or the singing. This is in part due, as much as anything, to the on stage chemistry between the pairs, including Kevin Clifton and Faye Brookes. If you don’t believe that there is chemistry then the story falls flat very quickly.
A final word here must be made about understudies. Three great performers had to step up on the evening that I attended and they segued into the action seamlessly. If nothing had been said at the start you wouldn’t have noticed. The Understudies and Swings that are very much a part of theatre are often overlooked. Perhaps, that is because they fit in too well. Michelle Buckley, Agnes Pure and Liv Alexander take a bow. Well done.
Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Ellie Kurttz
Strictly Ballroom The Musical plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Monday 1 – Saturday 6 May 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.