Glitter and anarchy as Strictly Ballroom returns for third time
Details were announced yesterday of a West End musical based on Strictly Ballroom, a Baz Luhrmann film that the new production’s creators say is as relevant now as it was 25 years ago.
Strictly Ballroom the Musical began life four years ago in Australia before a second version had runs in Leeds and Toronto. The third incarnation will be radically different again, according to its director and choreographer, Drew McOnie. “We want this theatre experience to have the same subversive anarchy of the film,” he said.
The main difference is the inclusion of a new band leader character played by Will Young, who will be the show’s main singer. It will give the production a gig-like quality, said McOnie. “Will Young’s character scores the action, he is like a devil of mischief and anarchy, he is the spirit which is inside all of us.”
McOnie said the popularity of ballroom, following the success of Strictly Come Dancing, was a gift but had also forced the producers to raise their game. “The pressure for us is that the entire audience are now expert judges,” he said. “If I’d done this 10 years ago you could have got away with anything, you could have done a tap dance in a ballroom dress.”
Strictly Ballroom was created as a stage show when Luhrmann was a student. He produced a version at a youth drama festival in Bratislava in 1986 and then Sydney, and in 1992 released the film, his first, which soon became a cult hit across the world.
It tells the story of a young maverick ballroom dancer who follows his heart, breaks the rules and takes on a rigid autocracy, in the form of the Australian Dance Federation.
Young said he jumped at the chance to be part of the show because of his memories of the film. He has his own specific relationship to Strictly after pulling out of the 14th series in 2016 just three weeks in. Strictly Ballroom was a “great metaphor” for how people should creatively do what they wanted to do, he said.
The show’s producer, Carmen Pavlovic, said the story of youthful rebellion had a strong resonance today. “It’s joyous but it’s also about personal freedom, about speaking up, about daring to be different and the modern relevance of Barry Fife [head of the Australian Dance Federation in the film] ... a badly tanned dictator.”
If audiences are unconvinced about the political overtones, they may be won over by the exuberance, with McOnie admitting it could very well be the campest production for some time.
In Leeds the costumes, designed by Catherine Martin, Luhrmann’s wife, had 200,000 handcrafted diamantes and 4,000 ostrich feathers.
“The costumes are very funny, very sexy and very colourful,” he said. “The costume design of the show is going to be quite an event and unlike anything the West End has to offer at the moment.”
Strictly Ballroom the Musical begins previews at the Piccadilly Theatre in London on 29 March.
▲ Members of the cast of the new Strictly Ballroom the Musical at the Cafe de Paris in London yesterday
Will Young plays a new band leader