Review: Strictly Ballroom The Musical, West Yorkshire Playhouse

The cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
The cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
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Cleverly programmed while the nation is in the grip of Strictly Come Dancing fever, the UK premiere at West Yorkshire Playhouse of Baz Luhrmann’s stage musical version of his iconic 1992 film is a fabulously camp and glizty extravaganza.

Set in Australia’s amateur ballroom dancing world in the mid-1980s the essential ingredients are all there in their marvellously cheesy glory. There are sequins, stiffly coiffed hairstyles, spray tan and fixed grins galore but in amongst all the trappings is an uplifting story about finding your own path and following your heart.

Amateur ballroom dancer Scott (Sam Lips) upsets Australia’s national federation – not to mention his partner who vows never to dance with him again – by coming up with his own steps during a local competition. Mousy Fran (Gemma Sutton), a pupil at Scott’s formidable mother Shirley’s dancing school, is drawn to Scott as a fellow outsider and suggests she could be his new partner. Despite his initial resistance to dancing with a beginner, soon the pair are preparing for the Pan Pacific Grand Prix, and falling in love.

Drew McOnie’s skilled direction and stunning choreography brings out the best in the talented cast of singer-dancer-actors and keeps the pace and energy high. The familiar jukebox tunes from the film – Time after Time, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps and the rousing finale Love is in the Air which had the audience up on their feet – are supplemented by catchy new songs with some splendid comic lines.

It’s all a complete blast, but one of the main highlights has to be in the run-up to the end of the first act when Fran’s Spanish father Rico (played by Australia’s foremost flamenco dancer Fernando Mira) shows Scott what a paso doble really should look like. It’s a breathtaking demonstration of flair and technique – and what dancing from the heart actually means. It convinces Scott to take a risk and continue to develop his own moves in defiance of the federation’s ‘strictly ballroom’ rules, chiming with the play’s powerful message that ‘a life lived in fear is a life half lived’.

It’s a warm hug of a Christmas show – the perfect antidote to the troubling times we are living in, pure escapism of the very best kind. As Craig Revel Horwood might say, quite simply Fab.U.Lous. Don’t miss it.

To January 21.

An artist's impression of the new front entrance. PIC: Page Park

Leeds’s West Yorkshire Playhouse secures multi-million funding towards landmark redevelopment