Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 hit film Strictly Ballroom, this musical adaptation includes over the top costuming, a young woman’s transformation, overbearing parents, an unbending establishment, secrets, lies and of course, a little love.
Scott just wants to dance from the heart. Fran wants to spread her wings.
Set in mid-80’s Australia, Strictly Ballroom The Musical opens with ballroom dancing star Scott Hastings (Sam Lips) and his beautiful blonde dancing partner Liz Holt (Lauren Stroud) being disqualified for dancing his spontaneous, non-regulation steps in an attempt to stand out from the crowd and win the competition. Scott quickly loses Liz to his flashy rival Ken Railing (Gary Watson), and shy, bespectacled Fran (Just Fran—honey-voiced Gemma Sutton) steps in as his new dance partner.
Whether you’re a child of the 80’s or you grew up in the age of Ugly Betty, you’ll be familiar with that old trope that portrays girls in glasses and ponytails as well, the ugly, or boring ones. These girls are characterized as nerds and undesirables—unless or until—they ditch the specs, let their hair down and start wearing new (read: sexier) clothes. Then and only then will they gain the affection of the popular crowd, and more importantly, only after this transformation can she “win” the cool guy’s heart. Expect that here.
Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, the dance sequences are good, but because we live in the age of shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, we’ve come to expect a lot from ballroom routines. This makes the dancing here feel underwhelming. Not even the grand finale really stands out or leaves a lasting impression.
The best and most electric dance of the production isn’t even performed by the main characters. It’s delivered (superbly) by Fran’s father Rico (the fantastic Fernando Mira), when he shows Scott how the paso doble is meant to be danced. Mira’s performance here is goose bump inducing.
Soutra Gilmour’s moving set design is impressive, full of gilt, glitter and flashing lights that goes a long way toward setting the scenes.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical isn’t the best musical you’ll ever see, but it still offers a lot of laughs and makes for an enjoyable night out with a friend or loved one.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical is onstage at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, now through June 25. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit: mirvish.com