Review: Strictly Ballroom

After opening in Sydney last year to a luke-warm reception, Strictly Ballroom received an injection with a glitter glue-gun before re-opening in Melbourne.

Phoebe Panaretos and Thomas Lacey - Strictly Ballroom. Photo by Jeff Busby.
Phoebe Panaretos and Thomas Lacey – Strictly Ballroom. Photo by Jeff Busby.

And while it still may need a bit more of a twist before we can shout about it, Brisbane crowds didn’t seem to mind when it opened at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre.

Another great-Australian-movie-turned-musical, one can’t help but compare Strictly Ballroom to its older sister Priscilla Queen of the Desert. In fact, some of the costumes (Catherine Martin), and makeup for the ballroom dancers were so intentionally gaudy, they could have almost stepped into Priscilla’s OTT world.

Neither one taking themselves too seriously, the deliberate use of the wide ‘strayan accent, ocker-isms, and the obsession with sequins were obvious choices for a tongue-in-cheek celebration of ballroom and all that glitters, but opportunities to celebrate the more elegant and glamorous side of Ballroom were lost.

Strictly Ballroom. Photo supplied.
Strictly Ballroom. Photo Jeff Busby.

That aside, the show’s choreography (John ‘Cha Cha’ O’Connell), did have some great moments. Highlights included the mirror dance sequence, which was a visually stunning collaboration between choreography and set design- one can’t help but notice the little nod to A Chorus Line here.

Another enjoyable scene was the Federation sequence. A non-ballroom number, it added variety and a chuckle.

What shone the brightest was the closing Act 1 number in the backyard of Fran’s parents’ home – the Paso Doble sequence. This Spanish-influenced scene packed a punch with rhumba beats and choreography that really raised the show to another time and place. Showcasing the musicians on the stage, the music and atmosphere created was deeply felt by the audience and was the highlight of the show.

Playing Fran’s parents, Abuela (Natalie Gamsu) and Rico (Fernando Mira), brought fire, passion, and heart to the stage. Gamsu’s voice was warm and rich, while Mira was enthralling as he taught Scott the heart of the Paso Doble.

Darren Gilshenan as Doug Hastings was the surprise dark horse of the bunch – a real crowd favourite –his characterisation of pitiful Doug was such that we couldn’t help but love him.

Heather Mitchell was outstanding in the role of Shirley Hastings, the ultimate stage mum. Mitchell danced a delicate two-step between outrageous and comedic genius. A role that could easily have the audience off-side, the dance queen dragon still managed to make us laugh at her unwavering commitment to the championship trophy.

The talented, leggy Nadia Coote was well cast as Tina Sparkle, and Ash Bee as Vanessa Cronin played the role of jilted dance partner with aplomb.

Phoebe Panaretos as Fran was strong, heartfelt, and endearing. The unique quality of her voice was a pleasure to listen to, and a welcome change to the strictly musical tone.

Strictly Ballroom. Photo by Jeff Busby.
Strictly Ballroom. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Thomas Lacey as Scott, also had a pleasurable voice to listen to. Smooth and warm; comforting and almost hypnotic.

With classic scenes from the movie including the famous Coke sign and Scott’s famous knee-slide, fans of the award-winning movie are sure to love the musical.

When the iconic song ‘Love is in the Air’ played, there was a sense of welcome nostalgia. Mixing these classic songs with original material (and more musical theatre in tone), however, was a gamble, which I’m not sure paid off. Perhaps – perhaps a jukebox musical would have offered a more consistent product.

Overall, Strictly Ballroom is a tongue in cheek romp around the dance floor with a moral heartbeat.

A light-hearted night out at the theatre, Strictly Ballroom will play at the Lyric Theatre till October 17.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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