*** 3 Stars
“wonderful physicality, pacing and joy”
The great Baz Luhrmann blasted in the cultural universe in 1992 with the first of his “Red Curtain Trilogy” movies that would be followed by his genre redefining Romeo and Juliet and the critically acclaimed smash hit Moulin Rouge. Strictly Ballroom actually, started life in 1984 as a stage play prior to its big screen adaption telling the story of Scott Hastings a frustrated dancer from a family of dancers, he wants to dance his own steps and thanks to amateur dancer Fran that seems possible, but they must take on the establishment and wade through the lies in a world where it truly is every dancer for themselves. It’s a joyful comedy story that takes a pastiche look at the world of ballroom dancing.
The musical came into being in 2011, premiering in Australia before coming to UK and debut at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2016. Now it’s on its first UK tour in a new production and calls at Edinburgh’s Playhouse for a week’s run. It’s also the curtain closer of the season for the venue prior to a 12-week renovation programming kicking off.
This UK tour production is a mixed affair, while it captures the heart of the movie original it however relies on an overly long book that really feels the pace in act 1 which is surprising given Luhrmann collaborated on the book with Craig Pearce although act 2 is really a ripper that gets to the crux of the story there feels like a little too much padding is used.
Performance wise this is one of the strongest complete ensemble casts who are incredibly gifted dancers. Lead by Kevin Clifton in the role of Scott he imbues the character with a justifiable sense of frustration but backs up his words with a beautiful physicality in his dancing. Playing opposite Faye Brookes as Fran. Her ability to give the character such innocence if wonderful watch and she too has the vocals and dance ability that adds true punch to the production. The 19 strong company deliver in spades in the dancing and really bring Director and co-Choreographer Craig Revel Horwood and Co-Choreographer Jason Cilkison’s choreography to sparkling life with great flare and style. Special mention must go to Karen Mann as “Abuela” her characterisation is flawless, and the audience are in totally belief of her wise and wisdom filled gem of lady.
Much like the movie it’s a pastiche the cast revel in sending up and makes the clunky acting scenes especially in the ensemble passable but across the company the accents keep faltering, this production is as about far east as it is to get from Australia, the key is if your goanna work in an accent then commit to it! Even when singing, this cast can sing especially with Musical Director Dustin Conrad’s excellent off stage 6 piece band who bring to life a wonderful score that includes the hits “Time after Time”, “Perhaps,Perhaps,Perhaps” and the mega hit “Love is in the Air”
From the Production angle, Mark Walters Costume and Set Design is an utter triumph, although the set is heavily brought in on the Playhouse massive stage it gives a fitting 90’s vibe with an ingenious use of the oval portals deployed throughout the stage. His costumes are wonderful especially in the glitz and glamour of the ballroom outfits which sparkle even more under Richard G. Jones fun and encompassing lighting design. The major problem is the sound, although Rory Maddens and Toby Chester’s sound design is clearly up to the job but the operation of it on press night was woeful, sound cues on microphones missed and then rammed on, meaning far too many lines of dialog were simply lost. Watching a performer wrestle with a microphone on a trumpet is never a good look too. This production deserves better sound.
The true joy of this production is the dance, here Revel Horwood excels, such wonderful physicality, pacing and joy floats across the footlights especially in the outstanding end of act 1 the fuses many dance styles including a blistering Flamenco. The dance alone makes this musical stand out, if they could get the sound up to par and keep those accents in check four stars are with in this shows grasp.
As the curtain fell to a rousing rendition of “love is the air” the cast delivered a truly worthy production and fitting finale to the season so why not pop along to the Playhouse for a fun, dance filled night of musical theatre.
Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, runs until Saturday 13th May 2023, For further info go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/strictly-ballroom/edinburgh-playhouse/