The Melbourne production of Strictly Ballroom the Musical features plenty of colour and movement.The production is playing to mixed reviews. Some love the Baz Luhrmann production, based on the movie Strictly Ballroom, on at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Others are less enthusiastic.
I enjoyed the production, although my companion who really enjoyed the film, was not as enthusiastic believing the stage show needed more substance.
And that seems to be one of the key criteria for either a thumbs up or thumbs down – the love of the movie. Fans of the 1992-made Australian movie seem to be more critical of the musical than those who haven’t seen it or who are perhaps indifferent.
Luhrmann also seems to divide critics – some love his style as evident in movies such as the Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge! while others are less positive.
Strictly Ballroom the Musical tells the story of Australian ballroom dancer, Scott Hastings, whose mother lives and breathes ballroom dancing.
She runs a dance school and is determined her son will be Pan Pacific Grand Champion, a title he has been training for since childhood.
However Scott decides he wants to dance in his own steps in preference to the more traditional ballroom moves. His dancing partner Liz leaves him, and he eventually finds a new dancing partner, and love, with the plain and ordinary dancing novice, Fran.
Their plans to dance their own steps at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix cause great alarm to all in the dancing community, especially Scott’s mother and Australian Dancing Federation chief Barry Fife.
Both fans and critics of the musical agree the costumes are a highlight of the show. Designed by Academy Award winner Catherine Martin, feathers and sequins abound. The dancing is another highlight with the Spanish number at the end of the first act being particularly spectacular.
Most also agree members of the cast had different strengths. Thomas Lacey, who plays Scott is a great dancer, while Phoebe Panaretos who plays Fran has an excellent voice. The supporting cast members are generally very good with Heather Mitchell as Scott’s mum Shirley, Robert Grubb as Barry and Drew Forsythe as Scott’s broken, put-upon dad. Natalie Gamsu as Fran’s grandmother Abuela and Fernando Mira as Rico also give great performances.
One of the main criticisms of the production seems to be the music.
There are both old favourites – such as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, Love is in the Air and Time After Time together with several new numbers written specially for the production. Certainly the old favourites got a greater reaction from the audience but in most cases I was too busy watching the dancing to even notice the songs.
And that was the joy of Strictly Ballroom for me- the dancing. It was colourful, fun and at times over the top. The same could be said of the production generally which is probably why I enjoyed it!
Jenny Burns attended opening night of Strictly Ballroom on January 17 as a guest of the production.