Strictly Ballroom: The Musical

It might be the theme song for Channel Nine’s latest reality TV show When Love Comes to Town but there’s no doubt in my mind that the John Paul Young classic invokes memories of one love story and one love story only. Yep, Love is in the Air is all about Strictly Ballroom.

A favourite of my childhood (what six year-old girl wouldn’t love those costumes?) I was pretty excited to hear Baz Luhrmann was planning to bring his 1992 movie to the stage.

It’s showtime!

I happily stepped into The Lyric Theatre at The Star to experience it for myself, ready for an all singing and all dancing (obviously) night of entertainment.

As the lights hit the stage and the silhouette of dancers are revealed in all their glittery, sequined costume glory in the first scene of the show, you can tell Baz has upped the wow factor (not surprising really when you compare his relatively modest cinematic debut with the lavishness of his more recent works such as The Great Gatsby or Moulin Rouge). Any concerns though that Baz would get too flashy are unfounded. The real Australia-ness of this story is still there to be embraced (or occasionally cringed at!).

Flashback. Photo by Douglas Kirkland

For those not familiar, Strictly Ballroom tells the story of Scott Hastings – a talented young dancer who has grown bored and starts dancing his own steps, a big no-no in the structured world of ballroom dancing. Shunned by the other dancers in his own league, amateur dancer Fran takes up the challenge to be Scott’s partner in secret, learning a lot about each other and themselves along the way.

Scott and Fran in action. Photo by Jeff Busby

The musical stays true to the much loved film, with most of the dialogue word perfect. Sure you’ve heard it before but there is a lovely familiarity to the lines we know and love being brought to life in the theatre:

“Listen to the rhythm. Don’t be scared.”
“Pam Short broke both her legs and I want to dance with you.”
“You really are a gutless wonder.”
“I have to help Wayne with his logo pogo,”
“A live lived in fear, is a life half lived.”

They’re all there and delivered with the additional passion and energy needed on stage. So too the score with movie favourites ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’, ‘Time After Time’ and of course, ‘Love is in the Air’, all having their moment in the musical version’s spotlight.

Catherine Martin’s glittering sequin costumes almost steal the show but stand out performers include Heather Mitchell as Scott’s pushy mother, Robert Grubb as Dance Federation President Barry Fife and newcomer Phoebe Panaretos as Fran.

Did someone say sequins? Photo by Jeff Busby

And I do have a soft spot for Scott’s Dad Doug played to perfection by Drew Forsythe (that clapping scene gets me every time, not to mention his fancy moves late at night in the dance studio).

Time after time

It might not tug at the heartstrings as much as the film, but with brilliant chorography, audience participation, a great ensemble and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, Strictly Ballroom: The Musical is a fun night out for those who love a bit of nostalgia and a little extra glitter and sequins in their life.

What movie would you like brought to life on stage? Tell us in the comments.

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