Who will be champions as competing dancers glide across the SW19 stage?
Strutting their stuff on the New Wimbledon Theatre stage in Strictly Ballroom
If you fancy a bit of ballroom nostalgia, dust off your spangly jackets and get down to New Wimbleon Theatre to catch the touring show of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical.
Directed by Craig Revel Horwood, and starring Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith, this feel-good production is an entertaining stage version of the 1992 Australian film.
It tells the story of how amateur ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Kevin Clifton) fights against family and convention to create his own steps, and then finds a more than willing partner in novice dancer Fran (Maisie Smith, previously Tiffany Butcher in EastEnders).
The first half seemed to drag a little as the scene was set, beginning with a voiceover introduction from Revel Horwood reminding us that this was very much an Australian-based show set in the 1990s and with some risque (and perhaps rather dated) humour to match.
Scott's mother Shirley Hastings (Nikki Belsher) runs a dance studio with Les Kendall (Quinn Patrick). The two teach the conventional dance steps, with Les's rather camp demonstrations of the moves raising smiles from the off.
One of the most memorable of the 13 numbers from Act One was the rendition of 'Happy Feet', where it was hard to keep your eyes off Les's twinkling toes as he encouraged his young protegees to follow his footsteps.
It was also terrific to see so many ballroom dancers glide across the stage in unison in both the dance studio setting and the competition arena. It was a real feat in the relatively restricted stage area.
The costumes were also eye-catching and an excellent six-piece band added to the overall atmosphere.
Young Fran is a bespectacled also-ran, who is only fit to dance with other girls at the start of the show. But our mousey heroine sets herself the target of dancing with maverick Scott. He refuses the offer to dance in the upcoming Pan Pacific championships with the appropriately-named Tina Sparkles to unexpectedly team up with Fran.
At this stage we now have doubts about how Fran is going to be transformed into a passionate Spanish dancer. But we are woken up to the possibilities by my highlight of the show - a simply wonderful Paso Doble with Fran's Spanish father Rico (Jose Agudo) putting on a breathtaking performance.
There were some rather stilted moments in the production - including what could have been a dream sequence with dance federation president Barry Fife (Gary Davis) in bed with four y-front-clad dancers on the stage. A panto-like titter is raised when a female dancer pops out of the bed as well. This was typical of the show's humour, which didn't always work for everyone.
As Act Two unfolds, we learn that Fran shares the dancing intensity of her Spanish family and Scott is eventually swept off his feet by his new partner. We also discover why Scott's father Doug Hastings (Mark Sangster) is kept very much under the thumb because of his rebel dancing past.
As she comes out of her shell, Fran also proves to be an excellent singer. While it isn't quite the same for Scott, Kevin Clifton has an acceptable voice.
There was no doubt that a significant portion of the Wimbledon audience were there to see Clifton's dancing, and he certainly didn't disappoint. We were also up on our feet for the 'Love Is In The Air' finale, and generally a good night was had by all.
93 The Broadway, Wimbledon SW19 1QG
2 hours 20 minutes including. interval
Until Saturday November 12 at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm.
By Sue Choularton
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November 10, 2022