Tag Archives: Nikki Belsher

Dancing in the Dark

STRICTLY BALLROOM

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 31st October 2022

Back in 1992, Baz Luhrmann’s directorial debut took cinemas across the world by storm.  So popular was the film that the BBC nicked half of its title for their reboot of popular ballroom show, Come Dancing (rendering the adverb meaningless, in the process!).   Now, the musical stage adaptation is doing the rounds, directed by Strictly’s chief grouse, Craig Revel Horwood.  As you might expect, the choreography (by Horwood and Jason Gilkison) is impeccable.  The problem I have, unfortunately, is that too often the downstage area is in darkness, and characters who should be the focus of particular moments, disappear into shadow.  I can’t work out if this is down to strange choices by lighting designer Richard G Jones, or whether it’s because the follow-spot operators fell asleep on the job.

The two leads are played by Strictly royalty, Kevin Clifton as Scott Hastings and Maisie Smith as Fran.  Clifton is a wonderful mover and, as a singer, well, he’s a wonderful mover.  Belting out non-descript ballads is not his forte, I’m afraid.  Smith is a revelation, with a fine singing voice with an impressive range.  Fran is the ugly duckling, Cinderella and Eliza Doolittle rolled into one, as she learns to dance to a standard fit for a tournament in just three weeks.

The score is a mix of original songs (which aren’t up to much) and jukebox classics of the era, and so standards like Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time are shoehorned in, with the hope that at least some of the lyrics will be pertinent to the situation.

The Australian accents add to the campness of the whole, contrasting with the elegance of the formal dance clothes and coiffured hair. Nikki Belsher is a prime example, as Clifford’s selfish mother, Shirley. Gary Davis cuts an overbearing, almost Trumpian figure, as the corrupt president of the dance federation, Barry Fife.

When Scott goes to meet Fran’s folks, he encounters Rico, who puts him in his place, choreographically speaking.  Jose Agudo steals the show with a flaming flamenco that brings the house down, which brings the first act to a rousing finale.  The show never recovers, never retains these dizzying heights again.  Not even in the climactic dance tournament.  Agudo is magnetic, drawing the eye, embodying elegance and masculinity in the stamp of a foot, the sweep of an arm.  Tens across the board!

On the whole, I think the show would work better as a play, with the songs reserved for the dance sequences.  The quirky comedy of the original film is swamped here by the soul-searching ballads.

Kudos to the talented performers, who give their all, and to the excellent six-piece band under the baton of Dustin Conrad, but the material needs to be handled differently if the story is to delight and to move me as the film did thirty years ago.

☆ ☆ ☆

Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)