Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Following his successes with dance tours, Live and Unjudged and License to Thrill, Brendan Cole, the bad boy of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing is back with his third major tour, A Night to Remember. This evening was the final performance of this year’s forty-eight date tour, although a further tour of the show is promised starting next January.
Certainly, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is packed with Brendan’s admirers, eager to see the man behind the mask and maybe hear a little Strictly behind- the-scenes gossip. Reading the programme notes, one might think that Cole has passed a watershed in his life since his marriage and the birth of his daughter – his description of how one of the songs, Cinderella, written by Steve Curtis-Chapman, came to be part of the show is particularly touching; Cole and most of his cast of young dancers perform an exquisite performance of an elegant Viennese Waltz to it during the second half to vocals by Iain MacKenzie. They display great technical skill and good synchronicity, making for a moving performance.
Indeed, the whole evening is characterised by clinical competence from all of the dancers and especially Cole and his leading lady for the evening, France’s Fauve Hautot, coincidentally a contestant on France’s version of Dancing with the Stars. Cole promises us an evening with something for everyone, with a dance to cater for all tastes and ages, so we have graceful ballroom favourites the waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and American Smooth alongside the latin fire of the Rumba, the Samba, Salsa, the drama of the intricately choreographed Argentine Tango and Paso Doble, together with the exhilarating Lindy Hop and Jive as well as more contemporary numbers and even a spot of Country, complete with cowboy hats. Some of the action is spectacular, with precise footwork and spectacular lifts and throws.
Particular highspots include the effortless elegance of the Rumba to Run to You, sung by Julie Maguire; the exuberant samba accompanied by Human Nature; the exquisite balletic and introspective waltz to I’m Kissing You, and the sophistication of the ballroom sequence opening the second half.
Throughout, Cole acts as host and says that this will be ‘your night’, promising audience interaction. There is indeed the question and answer session midway through the second half with musical director, Barry Robinson, which turns out to be quite X-rated on this occasion – one question in particular saw Cole lost for words. But this is where the show falls short: any interaction is strictly limited and frequently risqué. Cole seems to revel in his bad boy image; it feels as if he is playing the part of Brendan Cole, living up to the audience’s expectations based on his on-screen persona. There are just glimpses of the real man, as in his introduction to Cinderella, but mostly he plays up to the crowd. This is certainly crowd-pleasing even if there is something mildly unsettling in seeing an audience consisting largely of ladies of a certain age screaming and trying to touch him or the faces of his rugged male co-dancers. Even they seem to act up for the audience, pouting during dance sequences with some moments feeling like one has blundered into a Chippendales performance – though there is no actual stripping involved here.
So something of a curate’s egg: there can be no denying that Cole is hugely talented as a dancer and choreographer and that he has assembled an impressive array of talent to support him; but one can’t help feeling there is a shallowness in the presentation, that there is more to him than we are allowed to see – this is evident from the genuine emotion seen on the faces of the young dancers as they pay tribute to Cole, thanking him for his support and friendship during the tour. Nevertheless, the dancing is superb and intricate, the singers soulful and the band, if occasionally missing a string section, excellent; and for these reasons it is worth making the effort when it returns next year, no doubt with more salacious Strictly gossip.
Reviewed on 29th March