Photos – Jeff Busby
In the early 90s (was it that long ago?) an unknown turned his student play into a low-budget film that took Australia and most of the world by storm. Now some 20 years later, the not-so-unknown Baz Luhrmann has brought that same story full circle and back to the stage – as a lavish, way over-the-top spectacular – Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Strictly Ballroom, which centres itself in the crazy world of competitive dancing, had a great deal of heart – telling the sweet story of ugly duckling Fran who dared to dream of dancing with Scott Hastings, a dancer who wants to dance his own steps in the conservative championships. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Indeed.
Bringing the story to the musical stage was a bold move – but when the creative partnership of Baz and Catherine Martin are at the helm – there was never going to be a moment of "is this too much". Excess, bold colours, gorgeous visuals – are very much part of their DNA.
This stage spectacular is a visual feast. From the lavish costumes, to the atmospheric lighting design, from the iconic images taken from the film, to the broad performances from an accomplished (and large) cast – there are moments when so much is happening it is difficult to take it all in. And most of it works well, especially Martin's beautiful designs and Hugh Vanstone's exceptional lighting effects.
The music combines some of the best tracks from the film (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, and of course Love is in the Air) with new material written by Eddie Perfect, Elliott Wheeler and Sia Furler, amongst others – and includes some lovely new ballads, such as Beautiful Surprise. Apparently Perfect even wrote a new opening number (Strictly Ballroom) for the Melbourne season.
Time after Time – a highlight on the film's soundtrack – is cleverly worked into the storyline. The music score is wonderfully orchestrated by Elliott Wheeler and Max Lambert especially the rousing Act One finale, A Life Lived in Fear.
Newcomers Thomas Lacey (Scott Hastings) and Phoebe Panaretos (Fran) have large shoes to fill with the added difficulty of mastering all the dancing, but they both handle it well. Lacey is an accomplished dancer, while Panaretos proves that she has a great singing voice.
Excellent support is in ample supply from seasoned performers such as Heather Mitchell (as Shirley Hastings), Robert Grubb (as Barry Fife) – both hilariously extreme – and Drew Forsythe in a beautifully underplayed performance as Doug Hastings.
Natalie Gamsu (Abuela) and Fernando Mira (Rico) are also given some great moments to shine.
The large ensemble play their many roles very well and make an impressive spectacle collectively in the big dance numbers.
Does the film transfer well to the stage? Not all of it – there are several scenes where the dialogue does not sparkle as much as the sequins. And there are times when it is difficult to actually hear what's being said. Even though the show may have been cut since its Sydney season, there are still pockets that could be mended.
However, this is a story that attempts and for the most part succeeds in reaching the masses. The audience on the night that I sat in, loved the show. And that, after all, is what really matters.
Strictly Ballroom The Musical succeeds in entertaining its audience and bringing a large dose of Cha Cha Cha to the Melbourne stage.
Global Creatures and Bazmark present
Strictly Ballroom The Musical
by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Dates: from 14 January 2015
Times: Tuesday at 7pm | Wednesday at 1pm & 8pm | Thursday at 8pm | Friday at 8pm | Saturday at 2pm & 8pm | Sunday at 3pm
Tickets: $150 – $55
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | 132 849