Review of Strictly Ballroom as it brings flurry of feathers to Sunderland Empire stage

A flurry of feathers, a shimmy of sequins and glitterballs galore greet you in the opening number of Strictly Ballroom, setting the tone for a foxtrot foray behind the scenes of the glitzy, cutthroat world of competitive dancing.
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Long before the BBC’s Come Dancing show was reborn as Strictly Come Dancing, there was Strictly Ballroom, the sparkling early 90s film by Baz Luhrmann, making his debut in the director’s chair before going on to create hits such as Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

It’s a great bit of comic, camp cinema, cut from the same Australian film-making cloth as Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

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And, much like the latter, it makes an almost seamless transition into the flamboyant world of musical theatre.

Kevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom. Photo©EllieKurttzKevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom. Photo©EllieKurttz
Kevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom. Photo©EllieKurttz
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Sashaying his way into the dance shoes of main man Scott Hastings is Kevin Clifton, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, and fellow Strictly alumni Maisie Smith as dancing dark horse Fran, which is perfect casting for this celebration of ballroom.

They’re backed up by a talented troupe, particularly the incredibly-fluid Danielle Cato as Tina Sparkle, as they snakehip their way through a really fun score featuring new tracks as well as classics, including Love is in the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time.

The musical takes you on Scott’s journey as he finds his feet on the dancefloor with his own moves that aren’t ‘strictly ballroom.’

Strictly BallroomStrictly Ballroom
Strictly Ballroom
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At his side, Fran is a loveable wannabe dancer who longs to make her own mark on the art form, losing her glasses and inhibitions to become a dancer in her own right in this Cinderella-esque tale.

There’s some gloriously grotesque characters in there too, such as perma-tanned manager of the Pan Pacific Dancing Competition, Barry Fife, and his Trump wig, played by Gary Davis, and Scott’s flamin’ galah of a mother, played by Nikki Belsher, which makes for some great comic moments.

It’s a dazzling display with great tempo, particularly the closing scene of act 1, in which Scott and Fran dance the Pasodoble with her Spanish family.

You can’t help but get caught up in the red hot heat of this Latin dance as they perform the distinctive drumming steps of this fast-paced spectacle.

Strictly Ballroom the musical is at the Empire all this weekStrictly Ballroom the musical is at the Empire all this week
Strictly Ballroom the musical is at the Empire all this week
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Jose Agudo, as Fran’s dad Rico, was outstanding in the scene, putting on a breathtakingly-commanding display of this most fiery of dances.

Maisie makes her musical theatre debut in the show and although it’s dancing at the show’s core, her voice was beautiful in the slow numbers, one of the best I’ve heard on the Empire stage for a while, in fact.

Kevin too has plenty of star attraction and there was plenty of Clifton fans in the audience who won’t be disappointed with his almost constant stage time.

Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith as Scott and FranKevin Clifton and Maisie Smith as Scott and Fran
Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith as Scott and Fran

As we rumba our way to the final number in this feelgood show, I felt it didn’t quite have the sparkle of that incredible Pasodoble scene in act 1.

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Maybe Len wouldn’t give the finale a ten, but as the production’s director, Craig Revel Horwood, would say the show is still Fab-u-lous.

*Strictly Ballroom is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, October 15.

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