Entertainment Stage Strictly Ballroom The Musical: Hit or miss?
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Strictly Ballroom The Musical: Hit or miss?

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When it comes to Strictly Ballroom the Musical, walk don’t run – or perhaps that should be waltz don’t rumba – to get your tickets.

This is certainly a show to see – a Bazmark spectacular – but importantly a show to see in a few weeks or even a few months. Like the Spanish stew cooking in a big pot at the back of the stage towards the end of Act One, this musical will be infinitely better once it settles and allows it’s firey, spicy and flashy elements to unite.

cast
Catherine Martin, Carmen Pavlovic, Phoebe Panaretos, Thomas Lacey, Gerry Ryan and Baz Lurhmann.

It will also be better experienced once the impossibly high expectations have drifted into the stratosphere. Strictly Ballroom was a beloved daggy movie, it is unfair to expect the musical to be entirely fresh, reassuringly familiar, the essence of style and still as Australian as a pie-floater. Lets leave the musical miracle-working to JC Superstar.

Even by the second act this musical starts to really sing. The show finds its heart and takes the time to earn its anthem – John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air – such that when it finally arrives its an emotional powerhouse. There’s one miracle already!

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin at the premiere of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin at the premiere of Strictly Ballroom The Musical.

 

Baz Luhrmann and his team have undoubtedly succeeded in legitimately adapting the play-that-became-a-movie into a musical. This is much more than a simple recreation of the film with a few extra singers and bigger sequins. It is fresh and brave, but it has a few edges to knock off.

The show finds its heart and takes the time to earn its anthem – John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air – such that when it finally arrives its an emotional powerhouse.

From the opening whirlwind of The Blue Danube which has been reworked to become a cast-sung Strictly Ballroom overture, Luhrmann has clearly dialled the show up to 11.

At Saturday’s premiere the opening was still very much a whirlwind though, a wall of noise and movement that occasionally overwhelmed comprehension. The singing in particular was hopefully a case of nerves encountering lack of familiarity. It’s one thing to buck the Federation its quite another to rebel against the harmonies.

Catherine Martin’s design is, as ever, extraordinary. It is hard to know where to look and it’s rare to see a soft drink sign get a cheer.

In the first 20 minutes, the narrative is unfortunately equally distracting. The elements are too disparate. When we first arrive at Kendall’s Dance Studio, Scott seems a reality show contestant looking for an audition while Fran is a cartoon of frumpy proportions. Scott’s father, Doug – so endearing in the film – is to begin with at least, a one asthma-puffer reflex gag. Each flashes past leaving the impression of a show rushing to reach the good bit.

The good news is they arrive soon after. Scott’s Time After Time dance tuition of Fran somewhat poetically seemed to settle both the leads, while President Barry Fife’s Eastern Bloc themed totalitarian dance lecture and the ensuing State Final delivers the high camp fun the opening trampled.

Love is in the air at the star-studded after party.
Love is in the air at the star-studded after party.

Then we get the first show stopper. In the Pasa Doble end-of-act powerhouse we get the trademark Luhrmann musical reworking – from opera to backbeat and back again – along with a feast of colour and movement in perfect visual harmony.

It is here that the show finds its feet and never looks back. With Strictly Ballroom though, surely the steps should have been painted on the floor.

Strictly Ballroom is a lot like Fran and Scott, they need a bit more time working together, and at first breaking the rules leads to a few hiccoughs here and there, but in a few short weeks love will indeed be in the air.

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