Brendan Cole: Show Man – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

“Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.”

With a title like Show Man it is inevitable that Brendan Cole will start his show with some numbers from The Greatest Showman – and from the start, he sets out his stall toprepare us for what is to follow.

Unlike some of the other Strictly professionals who take part on nationwide show tours, Show Man places less emphasis on the traditional ballroom and gives us a production aimed as much at spectacle as it is glamour. The line-up of musicians feels like a rock band, the lighting effects often emphasise that feeling and the show kicks off with a bang as Cole appears complete with ringmaster costume to deliver the first number, The Greatest Show, surrounded by his company of seven professional dancers and a local choir of children from Stagecoach. It’s big, it’s loud and it certainly makes an impact – and as we transition into Come Alive the female dancers change into possibly the most stunning costume of the evening, creating a beautiful illuminated butterfly effect. A spectacular start indeed.

It’s not all high drama, though, as we see in the very next number. Cole has a story in mind for each of the numbers he choreographs, and this is a tale of unrequited love, a slow and poignant routine to Send in the Clowns. This gives us a chance to see some of his company in action individually, starting with a lovely solo from violinist Brigitta Bognar before Crystal Main takes to the stage to lead the dance number, accompanied by some nicely controlled vocals from Jenna Lee-James.

All through the evening, the theme is variety – we move on to Purple Rain with vocalist Iain Mackenzie complete with guitar solo, and a section they call Beggin’ to Buble, with the four male dancers doing their Jersey Boys routine followed by Cole and Main returning for a  cha-cha. The first half closes with a high-impact Tango de Roxanne, an Argentine tango full of passion with the whole company and the band in full swing, complete with another stunning violin solo from Bognar.

During the evening Cole takes the opportunity to dance with each of his three female dancers, and the second half begins with something dramatic – Cole with Kallyanne Brown in Cry Me a River followed by In the Shadows with Alexandra Busheva. It goes without saying that Cole and his company are extremely skilled at what they do in the dance department, but possibly less well-known is the fact that he also has a go at singing and playing the guitar – though to be fair, his guitar work seems to consist of strumming a few chords and is largely drowned out by the band behind him, while his vocals get strong support from his two professional vocalists.

Cole also takes the opportunity to meet the audience during the show and is not afraid to get out among them for a chat and a quick selfie, jumping off the stage and squeezing through rows of people as he goes. It adds a personal touch, more so than the more usual pre-selected audience Q&A sessions that you tend to find. He makes a very personable host, a far cry from the ‘bad boy’ image that he cultivated when he was on Strictly.

Among the spectacle there is some traditional ballroom, in the form of a beautifully conceived Viennese waltz with three couples this time in tails and ballgowns – goodness knows how many costumes there are on stage during the show, all of them beautiful. Then we reach the final number – a lively jive to Footloose wrapping up an evening full of variety and drama, of music and dancing.

If you’re a fan of Brendan Cole, if you like your dancing with a touch of spectacle, then Brendan Cole: Show Man could be just the thing you’re looking for.

Reviewed on 2 March 2020

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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