What an exciting evening I experienced at Hull New Theatre last night! Strictly Ballroom was in town, and if you expected it to be like that Saturday night favourite, Strictly Come Dancing, then you’re in for a shock. This production has even more sparkle, spangle, feathers, glitter, wigs, and fantastic costumes than a whole series of BBC Strictly, and provides much more fun.
Set in Australia in the 80s, where ballroom dancers compete for the Pan Pacific Ballroom Championships, this musical by Baz Luhrman sparkles from the first note played to the last curtain call. It incorporates competition, treachery, slapstick comedy, and dance.
I joined the audience and listened to a foreword by Mr Mean himself, Craig Revel-Horwood (Director and Co-Choreographer), which had plenty of laughs to warm up the audience. We then got our first sight of our own Kevin from Grimsby, taking on the role of Scott Hastings, who is a rebel in the world of ballroom dance. I normally go on to tell you the story, and this musical has a story, but I was so dazzled by the dancing, singing, and sparkle on stage that I just went with the flow and had a fabulous time. Revel-Horwood’s influence in the choreography and comedy staging was obvious throughout. Whether you love him or hate him, the man is a musical theatre legend.
I suspect most were there to watch King Kev, and he played his role brilliantly. This multi-talented lad can dance, sing, and act, and held the audience in his hands. Those swivelling hips captivated the ladies in the audience as he rumba’d, waltzed, and paso-doble’d his way around the stage.
Maisie Smith (Tiff from Eastenders) was due to play Fran alongside King Kev; however, last night we had her understudy, Maddy Ambus. She was fantastic – with a superbly clear singing voice and wonderful dancing and acting, she was a great leading lady and a great match to Scott Hastings. Her vulnerability and transformation were sympathetically shown, and she held the audience all night.
Scott’s overpowering mother and trainer were played by Nikki Belsher, whose acting was fantastic, and her “happy face” hilarious. We had great comedy pieces from Nikki and her stage husband, Mark Sangster, who, when in his past dance persona, reminded me of the late, great Benny Hill.
My highlight of the show came at the end of the first half when Scott goes to get Fran from her family’s milk bar and comes across her family. All Spanish and full of energy. They are initially against him dancing with Fran, but Scott thinks if he tells them they’re dancing a Paso Doble, they will come around. As only a trained dancer can, Scott dances a clumsy, stomping Paso and is laughed at by the family. On came what I can only describe as a threat to King Kev’s crown in the shape of Fran’s father, Rico (Jose Agudo), who shows Scott how a ‘real’ Paso looks. Trained in Flamenco, Agudo was sultry, sexy, and charismatic and ended his rhythmically brilliant dance to roars and applause from the audience. He goes on to show Scott how to ‘authentically’ feel and dance a Paso, and so, the dance Scott and Fran will dance at the forthcoming championships changes. To see Spanish dancing with its beautiful rhythms and body positions was inspiring, and it was fabulous to see all the male ensemble dancing along with Agudo.
The second act goes into the competition. I don’t think I have ever seen, nor will I see so much sparkle on one stage at the same time. There was also some hilarious comedy from Scott’s dad, his trainer, and the Ballroom Federation President who all donned wigs circa 1962, sparkly jackets, and danced and postured across the stage. It was truly hilarious and set out the intrigue for the rest of the second half and was part of the explosion of sequins, sparkle, and gaudy 80s coloured lycra as the dance competition progressed.
Our boy and our girl realized they loved one another, they danced brilliantly, and had the audience clapping and cheering along. All too soon, it was the finale. The audience was up and dancing and singing along. I could see lots of people dancing their way out of the stalls with happy, smiling faces.
This show runs at Hull New Theatre until Saturday 11th March, with a matinee on Saturday. It’s bright, brilliant, and very entertaining. Don’t miss it!