Review: Strictly Ballroom The Musical in Toronto4 min read

Strictly Ballroom: Still In Need of Some Sparkle and Heart.


Strictly Ballroom: Still In Need of Some Sparkle and Heart.

By Ross
Watching Baz Luhrmann’s stage adaptation of his hilarious and romantic charmer of a film that both makes fun of and lovingly embraces the competitive ballroom dancing world in small town Australia, is an exercise in acceptance. One must accept that taking the iconic and satirical film, Strictly Ballroom and trying to create a solid engaging musical has some innate difficulties and traps attached to it. One that sadly, Lahrumann and Craig Pearce, and the subsequent new revision of the book by Terry Johnson fail to bypass as the story moves along at a clip that assumes we all know what happens emotionally. Because, well, we all know the movie, and we all know that the awkward girl, once she takes off her glasses, will be the beautiful girl that the guy will undoubtably fall in love with.  I mean, it is a classic set-up that Lahrmann most successfully put to great use in his 1992 movie. And most of us still want to believe in that fairy tale, and gobble it up especially in the way the movie presented it back then. It was funny, crazy, and a whole lot of charming. Where as, Strictly Ballroom, The Musical, making it’s North American premier in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre, love happens because, well, ’cause it’s supposed to.  The film says so. And this is where the trouble starts.
Whenever we read a Cliffs Notes version of, let’s say, a Shakespearian play, we read about what happens, but generally miss out on the magic and the poetry. We only find out the details but not the heart. Watching Strictly Ballroom, The Musical feels like the Cliffs Note version of this musical movie transfer. My companion, who had never seen the movie, asked when it was all over, why did the two leads fall in love? “I know they did, because they said they did, but I didn’t see when it happened”. And I could give him no real reason that I could point to within the musical, except that they did, because they tell you they did. After it happens. And that it made sense in the movie.  I accepted it because I knew the film, but the musical failed to show us the real transition and romantic arc.
hero_ballroom5Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a terrible musical by any means.  There is a lot of great stuff floating around in its assembly.  The leads are magnificent. Sam Lips (Broadway’s Pippin, Cinderella), as the maverick ballroom dancer, Scott Hastings, who wants to risk it all so he can dance his new steps is as exciting to watch as you’d expect. His champion caliber dancing is skilled, athletic, and powerful. The only time it feels odd and underwhelming is the number ‘On The Edge‘ when he appears to dance with multiple mirror images of himself. It’s very homoerotic, which I doubt is the desired effect, and not very soaring. It also is within his character development that we don’t really see the romantic attachment grow.  We don’t really have a glimpse into the reasons he even takes on his new dance partner when the wonderfully horrible Liz Holt (a solid Lauren Stroud) leaves him for the reigning dance champion. Nor do we see him grow to love her.
Gemma Sutton, as Fran, the new dance partner of Scott’s, is as surprising as she is meant to be.  As it is in so many teen movies, when the girl finds herself together with the handsome man (usually the high school jock, but this time the star dancer), all it takes to change homely into beautiful is the removal of a pair of glasses and the hair needs to be set free, then, voila, gorgeous.  Add a voice that soars stronger and more magnificent with each and every song, and a miracle appears.  Her rendition of Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman’s  ‘Time After Time‘ is one of the highlights of the show, along with the Act II duet standout, ‘Love Is In The Air‘ (written by Harry Vanda & George Young). (for the complete review, click here)
Posted on May 10, 2017
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