Reviewed – 25th April 2018
“It is enough just to be swept along with its energy and its silliness”
Thirty years ago Baz Luhrmann’s stage play, “Strictly Ballroom”, enjoyed a successful enough run in Sydney to be picked up and transformed into the film that helped make his name and shape his career. Although Luhrmann is still at the helm of the current stage incarnation that pretty much replicates the movie, he has stood back to let it be reinterpreted for the new audience. In the hands of director and choreographer Drew McOnie, some new trimmings are added to the otherwise faithful version of the original. And there’s the rub: this stage production inevitably cannot escape the comparisons (of which there have already been many) to the original film. But that is not the point.
Set in the cut-throat world of small town amateur ballroom dancing, the story focuses on Scott Hastings and his struggle to establish his personal style of dance on his way to win the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. His steps are not “strictly ballroom”, and in his refusal to follow convention the surmounting obstacles threaten to crush his ambition. Cue ugly duckling, Fran, who is the only one who shares his passion. Totally predictable, it is nevertheless a gloriously magical show, full of the glitz and glamour you expect, but also a complete send up of that exact same glitz and glamour. Being a satire of itself you can forgive the sometimes over-the-top camp delivery and off-target humour.
Overall it is slightly off balance. There are a few too many lows between the highs, and some meaningless musical asides that steer the narrative off course. But these do not phase the cast who are uniformly strong. McOnie’s choreography is second to none which the entire company effortlessly pull off with their impeccable dance skills. Everything about the design is a delight, from Catherine Martin’s colourful and flamboyant costumes to Howard Hudson’s lighting, which make the show a real spectacle. It is a shame, though, that so few of the leads are given the opportunity to sing. Instead, star attraction Will Young monopolises the soundtrack of pop classics as he takes on the role of emcee – a curious device for this show, albeit a crowd pleasing one.
But what truly makes this production are the two leads. Jonny Labey, as Scott Hastings, moves like a panther yet can mix in the camp comedy with ease, and his charisma outshines the sequins on his jacket. Then there is Zizi Strallen who constantly lights up the entire stage. A compelling performer with a natural stage presence, she displays an outstanding talent for dancing and acting. The West End will surely be seeing a lot more of her.
The pair’s onstage chemistry undoubtedly gets you to engage in a production that is otherwise a touch hit and miss. But that may be because it defies categorisation. It is not exactly (deliberate avoidance of the synonym ‘strictly’ there) a musical, yet with plenty of electrifying routines and the powerfully tight sound of the onstage band, we are drawn in and we end up rooting for the characters. Whether or not you have seen the original film, the outcome is plainly obvious. But, as I said, that is not the point. It is enough just to be swept along with its energy and its silliness. Like Scott Hastings’ dance steps, this show flies against convention and should be applauded for that.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Johan Persson
Piccadilly Theatre until 20th October
WILL YOUNG & LOUISE REDKNAPP
LEAD THE CAST IN
RUFUS NORRIS’ ACCLAIMED PRODUCTION OF KANDER AND EBB’S MUSICAL MASTERPIECE
Internationally renowned singer/songwriter, Will Young, reprises his Olivier Award-nominated performance as the enigmatic Emcee alongside musician and presenter Louise Redknapp, who makes her stage debut as Sally Bowles in Rufus Norris’ multi-award winning production of CABARET.
Cabaret will embark on a UK tour this autumn, opening at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Thursday 21st September 2017 and playing theatres in Blackpool, Cardiff, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Salford, Edinburgh, Bromley and Brighton.
Ever since winning the inaugural series of Pop Idol in 2001, WILL YOUNG has been one of the UK’s most popular and successful music artists. He holds the record for the fastest selling debut single in British chart history, and has enjoyed a phenomenal career in music with four No1 albums, as well as acting alongside Dame Judi Dench in the film Mrs Henderson Presents. Will made his West End debut in Cabaret and will be reprising his award winning performance.
LOUISE REDKNAPP rose to fame as a member of the girl group Eternal. She left the band to carve out a successful solo career achieving an impressive twelve Top 20 singles, including the hits Naked and Stuck in the Middle and selling over 5 million records with 5 albums. Since then she has rarely left our television screens and most recently wowed the nation with her dancing skills finishing ‘runner up’ in the 2016 series of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Will Young as Emcee and the Company in the 2012 production of Cabaret Photography by Keith Pattison
CABARET features show-stopping choreography, dazzling costumes and some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre including ‘Money Makes The World Go Round’, ‘Two Ladies’ ‘Maybe This Time’ and of course ‘Cabaret’. The production turns Weimar Berlin of 1931 into a sassy, sizzling haven of decadence, and at its dark heart is the legendary and notorious Emcee, who performs nightly at the infamous Kit Kat Klub.
Since its Broadway premiere in 1966 and the famous movie version with Liza Minnelli and Oscar winner Joel Grey, CABARET has won a staggering number of stage and screen awards including 8 Oscar’s, 7 BAFTA’s and 13 Tony’s. Norris’ production has enjoyed two smash hit West End runs and has picked up 2 Olivier Awards.
Rufus Norris is Director of the National Theatre and a multi-award winning theatre and opera director. For the National Theatre, he has directed The Threepenny Opera, wonder.land, Everyman, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Amen Corner, Table, London Road (Critics Circle Award), Death and the King’s Horseman, Market Boy. Other theatre includes Vernon God Little (Young Vic), Les Liasons Dangerouses (Broadway – five Tony Award nominations), Festen (West End and Broadway) The Country Girl (Apollo) and Afore Night Came at the Young Vic (Evening Standard Award). Film credits include London Road and Broken.
Choreography is by the Olivier Award-winning Javier De Frutos. In 1990, he formed The Javier De Frutos Dance Company. His work includes The Hypochondriac Bird and Affliction of Loneliness. Recently he joined forces with Sadler’s Wells and The Pet Shop Boys to create a brand new dance work based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Most Incredible Thing.
Cabaret will play at the New Theatre Wimbledon, Blackpool Opera House, Cardiff New Theatre, Leeds Grand Theatre, Milton Keynes Theatre, The Lowry in Salford, Edinburgh Playhouse, Churchill Theatre Bromley and Brighton Theatre Royal.
CABARET – TOUR DATES 2017
Thursday 21 – 30 September
Box Office: 0844 871 7646
New Wimbledon Theatre
Tuesday 3 – 7 October
Box Office: 0844 856 1111
Blackpool Opera House
Tuesday 17 – 21 October
Box Office: 029 2087 8889
Cardiff New Theatre
Tuesday 24 – 28 October
Box Office: 0844 848 2700
Leeds Grand Theatre
Tuesday 31 October – 4 November
Box Office: 0844 871 7652
Milton Keynes Theatre
Tuesday 7 – 11 November
Box Office: 0843 208 6000
Salford, The Lowry
Tuesday 14 – 18 November
Box Office: 0844 871 3014
Tuesday 21 – 25 November
Box Office: 020 3285 6000
Churchill Theatre Bromley
Tuesday 5 – 9 December
Box Office: 0844 871 7650
Brighton Theatre Royal
Further dates to be confirmed