Strictly Ballroom: The Musical – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Book: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce

Director: Craig Revel Horwood

Scott Hastings is a ballroom dancer. Brought up in a dancing family, he’s very good. Now he has set his sights on the one competition he hasn’t yet won. The only problem is that some of the steps he wants to include aren’t exactly approved by the strict Australian Federation. When he gets disqualified from a competition for dancing these radical steps, his long-term dance partner splits up with him, leaving him with three weeks to prepare and no partner to work with. In comes Fran, who’s still in the beginners class and who has never had a male dance partner, suggesting that they should work together. Scott reluctantly agrees to give her an hour to look at some steps. Could she be the saviour he’s seeking or is it too much to hope for?

The plot is as thin as tissue paper with a highly predictable storyline, but for the majority of the intended audience this won’t matter. It’s a Romeo and Juliet tale of two people from different backgrounds whose ambitions bring them together. Scott is desperate to break out of the tightly-controlled world of Federation-approved dancing, while Fran is trying to escape from her strict and restrictive family upbringing. The vehicle for both of them to find some release is unorthodox dancing.

The weakness of the plot doesn’t mean that the performances are in some way lacking – far from it as we are treated to some excellent work going on on stage. Maisie Smith is an excellent Fran showing us some superb acting skills. Her timid beginner – full of giggles and embarrassed laughing as she plucks up the courage to suggest herself as a dance partner for Scott – is humorous and endearing, you root for her to succeed. You can almost feel her confidence and self-belief growing as the story progresses. Although her vocals aren’t always the strongest, anyone who has seen her dance on TV will know how accomplished she is as a dancer. Opposite Smith is Edwin Ray, on as Scott at this performance. Ray is an excellent dancer too with some good Ballroom and Latin skills, and the two of them work extremely well together, both as dance and possible romantic partners.

There’s good work from the supporting cast too. Nikki Belsher is suitably pushy as a parent while showing an amusing fake happiness in front of her class of incompetent dance students, with Mark Sangster as her unambitious husband with a hidden secret. Quinn Patrick gives good support as dance school proprietor Les Kendall, with Gary Davis demonstrating excellent vocals as the sleazy Barry Fife from the Federation. Jose Agudo is outstanding as Fran’s controlling father Rico, showing superb dance skills as he undertakes teaching the Paso Doble to Scott and Fran with excellent support too from Karen Mann as Abuela. It’s a production with dance at its heart, and on stage we have a strong cast of excellent dancers. This is of course a musical not a dance show, and the choreography by Craig Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison reflects that but that in no way detracts from the quality of the spectacle on display. It’s colourful with a good mix of dance styles, all geared around fitting into the plot of the show.

It’s a glimpse behind the scenes of the world of competitive dance. The smiles we see when they are dancing can hide a lot of personal family and relationship issues. As Shirley says, adopting a fake grin: “happy face”. The storyline isn’t going to set the world on fire but the overall production is pleasantly entertaining with colourful costumes, lots of sparkle, catchy music and excellent dancing.

Runs until: 4 March 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Pleasantly entertaining

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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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One Comment

  1. While we were disappointed not to see Kevin Clifton perform the role of Scott, in a way it was a better show without him as we looked at everyone, not just ‘the star’.
    Overall we enjoyed the show, although the high pitched screeching of several of the female actors (in keeping with their characters) made the dialogue difficult to hear at times.
    Fabulous dancing from the whole cast. And that Paso Doble lesson scene…wow!

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