I made it no secret that when I saw Strictly Ballroom The Musical during its April previews, I didn’t love it. It wasn’t what I was expecting in the slightest and I walked away underwhelmed. However, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a few months away from the show. It’s had a chance to polish the rough edges (and change up the songs a fair bit), and there’s even been a slight cast change. So four months on from its opening, did Strictly Ballroom The Musical get the chance to wow me?
When I first saw Strictly Ballroom The Musical, all I knew about the show was what I’d read about the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of this brand new musical. And the West End version was nothing like that. It was a Will Young concert with very extravagant costumes and a bizarre story line. Now I’ve had the chance to digest, I can finally talk about whether the show worked as a West End production, and also compare Will Young to his successor in the role of Wally – the show’s narrator.
There is nothing I love more than a brilliantly choreographed show, and you can’t deny that Strictly Ballroom The Musical has some beautiful numbers. The act one finale – the Pasodoble – is one of the most incredible numbers I’ve seen in recent years, and Zizi Strallen and Jonny Labey’s chemistry whilst they dance the intimate Rumbas brings the pieces to life. By seeing the production a second time, I was able to appreciate this choreography even more than the first time as I wasn’t looking all over the stage to see what was happening. I could simply watch and enjoy.
However, I still don’t agree with the band being on stage during the performance. Whilst the Piccadilly Theatre is a fairly deep stage, it is not a wide stage. And for the choreography to reach its full potential, I wish the stage was bigger. Something that works with 42nd Street is that Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is such a wide stage meaning every aspect of the 40+ strong ensemble’s choreography can be seen. With the ballroom dresses in such a small space, its impossible to see every line that the cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical make. If the band weren’t around, this would increase the stage availability and I feel like it would allow the ensemble to work to the their full potential.
In the past couple of weeks, Will Young has stepped down as the narrator to the show to allow Matt Cardle to take the reigns, albeit slightly less sequinned reigns. Both have previous theatre experience – Will Young playing Emcee in Cabaret on tour for a couple of years, and Matt Cardle taking over from Killian Donnelly in Memphis. I wasn’t convinced by the Will Young show that Strictly Ballroom The Musical seemed to be, even though I was Team Will over Team Gareth back in his Pop Idol days. But after seeing Matt Cardle, maybe the Will Young show was needed to keep me interested in the plot.
Matt Cardle makes it less about him, and may as well just be part of the band. You know the singers on the Strictly Come Dancing television show? You get introduced to them and then they just since for a couple of hours? Matt Cardle’s Wally was much more like this. His Wally was less camp, the costumes were far less flamboyant and I often forget he was there. I’m not sure I liked it. Perhaps because I knew the plot (and that it wasn’t anything groundbreaking), I took no real notice of it the second time around and just enjoyed the show for its theatricality. Or perhaps Matt Cardle just didn’t draw me in in the same way.
I almost can’t believe that two people can play the same role so differently in the same company. There have been no other cast changes, so these are their own interpretations of the role. Fun fact: I spotted Will Young in the pub next door prior to this particular show, so I have a feeling he was in the audience supporting a fellow Wally that night.
Did I come away from the Piccadilly Theatre in love with Strictly Ballroom The Musical? No, it’s fair to say I didn’t. But I have left with a new appreciation for the show that I didn’t have before. I saw the show at face value by seeing it a second time, and I think I could probably go for a third time as a result. I’m not saying I will (there are a lot of shows closing in the West End in the next six months or so that I need to catch), but I think I could happily watch it again.
If you want a feel good show with fun choreography to well-known songs then Strictly Ballroom The Musical is that show for you. And it’s definitely a much better show now that it’s had time to develop. Thanks to London Box Office for the ticket to Strictly Ballroom The Musical, which is booking until 20th October 2018.