Review by: Paul Towers, 5/9/18
Strictly Ballroom The Musical by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
A Leeds Playhouse production directed by Drew McOnie
Piccadilly Theatre London until October 27th 2018
“the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy”
Anyone who remembers the 1992 film by Baz Luhrmann will be in no doubt about what to expect of his stage version. Imagine the result if Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was crossed with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie but with added feathers, sequins and tulle. You would be going some way towards what is on the stage of The Piccadilly Theatre.
This show is the highest of camp and makes BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing look dowdy. All the girls look like drag queens. All the guys look like drag queens out of drag. It is huge fun with tons of laughs and a soundtrack of familiar tunes shoe horned into the storyline with scant regard for chronology. But who cares?
The MC is the person who keeps everything under control (sort of) and sings most of the songs as he moves the narrative along. Usually this is played by Matt Cardle but on the Wednesday matinee I went his understudy, Justin-Lee Jones, was on and a very good job he did too. Two ladies sat behind me who had seen the show several times opined that he was the best yet.
Several of the characters have obviously been modelled on people we know. Les Kendall, played by Richard Grieve, is very much a Donald Trump caricature. Ken Railings, Gary Watson, was a high camp parody of Bob Downe (if there is such a thing) and Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle was very like Kath & Kim, all screechy Aussie vowels.
The two leads were played by Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen, both known for their dancing skills. However this show stretches them further than ever and they both rise to the occasion splendidly with a wide range of dance styles and some impressive pasodoble footwork ably instructed by Fernado Mira’s Rico
A great supporting ensemble camp it up as Scott Hastings (Labey) throws the world of Australian ballroom dancing into chaos with his innovative dancing. Cue feather, sequins and ball gowns aplenty as they swirl across the floor.
The Piccadilly Theatre is a slightly jaded building packed into the space behind Shaftsbury Avenue. The Royal Circle has a rake so steep you almost need crampons; the seats are so low you are in danger of getting DVT and the velveteen is desperately in need of replacement. That said, the staff are very welcoming and helpful while the bar prices are no worse than any other West End theatre