There’s always a worry that a much loved film becomes something less than it should when transferred to the stage. In the case of STRICTLY BALLROOM – THE MUSICAL, which sashayed into the Wales Millennium Centre this week, it is everything the 1992 Baz Luhrmann movie is, and so much more.

From start to finish the show sparkles and shines, is filed with glitz and glamour, and is about as bonkers brilliant a show as you’ll see. It’s also really funny.

As with the movie, we’re thrown straight into a dance competition: sequins, sparkles and smiling couples gliding across the dance floor in perfect unison. ‘When You’re Strictly Ballroom‘ is the song and from the get go you wonder how the company are going to maintain the dancing while singing thing for the next couple of hours.

Before we go any further, let’s check in with the opening night audience to get their take on the show. If you watch this before reading on with our review, just be aware there was a cast change……..

STRICTLY BALLROOM – THE MUSICAL (AUDIENCE REACTION)

This is a predominantly dance musical (it’s in the title) so let’s start with the routines.

Strictly judge CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD not only Directed this production but is Co-Choreographer with JASON GILKISON – who’s real life story inspired Baz for the movie. The dancing is hugely impressive with some really exuberant numbers featuring the entire company, who give their all from start to finish. There’s also plenty of moments for the main stars to shine, and that they most certainly do.

Craig also provides the ‘switch your phone off‘ announcement, which is a great touch.

If you’re going to see the show later in the week, KEVIN CLIFTON returns (Wednesday) from paternity leave (congratulations to Stacey & Kevin) as Scott Hastings. Last night it was EDWIN RAY who took to the floor. Obviously, there are many fans who want to see Strictly favourite Kevin in action, I can tell you however, that Edwin is superb in the role too. Boy can he dance and certainly belt out a song. The chemistry too between him and Maisie was spot on.

Actually, you may have seen him in another Australian based musical, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, on its last tour.

The biggest surprise of the night comes in the shape of Eastenders and former Strictly contestant MAISIE SMITH who is love interest and would be dancer Fran. We know she can act, having served a massive apprenticeship in Walford as Tiffany Butcher since she was 7. Yes, she can dance, as those of us who rooted for her on Strictly know only too well. But her voice! Maisie, where on earth have you been hiding that? More to the point, why have you been hiding it?

Her first song in the show is the moving ‘Beautiful Surprise‘ which couldn’t be a more fitting theme for her voice.

This is Maisie’s first full on musical theatre lead role and we all hope not her last. She has the perfect amount of blossoming wallflower sass to play Fran.

Amongst all the big hair and tons of sequins, the story is simply about love and dancing. For me, the scene where Fran and Scott dance on the studio rooftop, with a beautiful sunset behind them, is a lovely moment. As wonderfully frantic as the main routines are, it’s this scene which really stands out for me. It was a magical getting to know each other moment in the story.

Scott is a dancer with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to be different and stand out from the crowd. His Mum Shirley (NIKKI BELSHER) if your typical pushy mother living her dreams through her son. It’s these expectations that have Scott fighting to assert his own style and cut away from the ‘norm‘, which almost gets him booted out of the competition.

His Dad Doug (MARK SANGSTER) is fabulous and without spoiling too much, has his moment in the spotlight in the second half in one of the stand out comedy routines of the show.

On the other side, Fran’s dad Rico (JOSE AGUDO) is something special on the dance floor and teaches Scott a thing or two when it comes to the the Paso Doble. His dancing is brilliant and, like the dance itself, gives us one of the most powerfully electrifying routines of the show. This comes at the end of the first half and left us all wanting more as we headed to the bar.

Maisie Smith and company – Strictly Ballroom (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Apart from the building love interest between Scott and Fran, the story deals with these two young dancers trying to become their own people, performing dance with their own passion rather than following or meeting the expectations of family and competition tradition. In this respect the show has great depth in what could be seen as another song and dance love story.

Strictly Ballroom – The Musical is fantastic fun. It obviously has phenomenal dancing, thanks to some well choreographed routines from Craig and Jason. The show also features a great soundtrack too, which will have you reaching for Spotify on your way home. There are songs you’ll know and love; yes, ‘Love is in the Air‘, ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps‘ and ‘Time After Time‘ are all there. We also get a massive helping of new music too, which feels instantly familiar. Then you’d expect that from artist such as Sia, David Foster, Eddie Perfect and Grammy-winning writers Diane Warren and David Foster who all wrote tunes for the show.

Kudos to the six-piece band who filled the auditorium with a fabulous sound.

When Scott sings ‘Shooting Star‘ you really feel emotionally invested in his character. As I said earlier, it’s these moments when we break away from the spectacle of the dance that make this a proper musical theatre experience.

The sets and costumes are wildly extravagant and would sit very nicely on the set of a certain TV show we won’t mention. We get feathers, crazy catsuits and a pair of the skimpiest shorts, which I’m afraid to admit a few of us blokes in the audience wore back in the day.

The comedy is a little left-field, and sometimes ‘raunchy’, but any fan of the movie would expect that. The opening number is frenetic and really sets the pace for a show which also includes some great set pieces. The story too, although simple, is really well told.

Strictly Ballroom (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

It would have been way too easy to make this a show filled with the scenes we love in the movie. The stage musical is definitely one that stands on its own and packs a massive punch.

It’s never going to be your traditional musical and that’s simply down to Baz Luhrmann. His reputation as a maverick writer and director actually began with this very show. He first put pen to paper at drama school in 1984 on what was to become the first in his Red Curtain Trilogy.

STRICTLY BALLROOM – THE MUSICAL is putting on the glitz and glamour with some incredible dancing and show-stopping songs. Maisie Smith is a revelation as Fran. The Eastenders girl is an Aussie delight in her very first musical theatre role. Catch her, and the show while you can.

To find out more about the show, its stars and the genius that is Baz Luhrmann, take a look at our feature HERE.

You can also take a look at our original show feature – HERE.

STRICTLY BALLROOM is at the Wales Millennium Centre through to Saturday 28th. Tickets start at £18.50 and you can get them here. STRICTLY

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