Strictly Ballroom (Global Creatures and Bazmark)
QPAC, Lyric Theatre
September 9 – October 17
The plot the 1992 Australian film “Strictly Ballroom” is simple; Scott a great young ballroom dancer has grown restless with the expectations of conventional dancing so tries to mix things up with some maverick steps of his own steps, to the horror of the dance commissioners. Shunned by the other dancers (his partner included), he takes to the floor with newcomer to dance, wallflower Fran whose Spanish family teach him how to embrace his passion. This is all against the urging of his family who are keen to foster a new partnership between Scott and the all-star Tina Sparkle to pursue dreams of winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship.
The result of the stage realisation of the film maintains the simplicity of the storyline, but amplifies its aesthetics to create a colourful and energetic musical with more sequins, feathers and diamantés on stage than the eye can appreciate. Add in a glitter ball and sparkling seat covers to divide the audience into respective colour sections of blue, orange, pink or green and you are surely set for a smash hit show, especially given that the production has been brought to the stage by the original creative team behind the film, including director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann and set and costume designer Catherine Martin. Yet, although all the ingredients are evident, there seems to be something strictly missing the inflation of this already-light story.
The 30+ cast of performers are expert in the gleeful exaggeration required of the show’s ostentatious costuming and choreography. Indeed, its effective direction and conscious irreverence are clear from its initial minutes of the kitschy ‘Heavenly Pineapple’. And, as one would expect from a production with such large cast, its big dance numbers are the highlights, such as when Scott boleros-up in a boisterous Spanish number to signpost Act One’s crescendo into intermission.
When the film’s classic songs, such as John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’ feature, they are carried along by their timeless appeal, however, the addition of new songs by artists such as Eddie Perfect and Sia seem to serve only as obviously space fillers to stretch its running time to that more appropriate for a stage musical. Additional to this is the distraction of too many scene changes and often unnecessary staging rotation, which rather than adding interest, ultimately detract from narrative cohesion
Fans of movie will of course be satisfied, especially in seeing its iconic scenes brought to life, such as a dancing dip in front of neon billboard. And there is certainly no mistaking its Australian setting given its colloquial language, boganism and over-the-top campness, played to extravagant perfection by Sophia Katos as Liz, Scott’s initial despairing dance partner. However, the standout supporting performances come from Scott’s parents; Heather Mitchell is excellent as his tunnel-visioned mother, always appropriately pantomime-like in her performance. And Darren Gilshenan’s Doug Hastings, who comes out of shell as an anti-dance-hero in a flashback, is clearly a crowd favourite. Comparatively as leads, Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos do what is required of them but don’t really exceed expectations.
“Strictly Ballroom” is hyper-real visual feast, however, putting on the glitz with two-dimensional characters and a paper-thin plot results in inconsistencies when it comes to substance. Still, it is as it promises to be – a colourful kaleidoscope of froth and glittery bubble, worth a visit for those wanting to add some fairy-floss to the musical theatre diet.