Glit­ter and an­ar­chy as Strictly Ball­room re­turns for third time

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Mark Brown Arts correspondent

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID BENETT/GETTY IM­AGES

▲ 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

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