I really hate this musical.
Baz Luhrmann can write and direct one hell of a movie, but it is evident he has no idea how to compose material for the stage. And apparently Craig Pearce and Terry Johnson didn’t have the heart to tell him when working with him on adapting and developing his 1992 iconic Australian rom-com Strictly Ballroom for the stage. What remains is a dry, painfully arranged script that would have about as much flow and charm as a river of cement… that is if not for the brilliant vision of first time director Karen Snook and her team.
Snook has proven definitively that putting a sewer rat in a suit doesn’t mean he stays a sewer rat – adding polish to high impact moments to bring out a high lustre finish and meeting awkward moments where dialogue seems to just stop unresolved head on, Snook has brought this kitch-y Australian comedy back to life onstage by injecting it with the high dose of the “Luhrmann-factor” that was missing – something other productions had ignored that have driven it further into the ground.
Featuring electrifying choreography from Ashlea George and outstanding musical direction (which is very on brand and unsurprising for musical directors Christopher Hochkins and Nathan Barraclough), Strictly Ballroom is a prime example of the rare instance where a production overshoots the source material with as much ease as a Porsche overtaking a minivan on the M1.
But where this show really shines is in the visual feast of the set and lighting design by Stuart Smith and the bouquet of colourful costuming designed by Kylie Preston. Both of of these visual approaches are unlike anything this reviewer has ever encountered on the Laycock stage. You may think that is a bold claim, but I ask you to watch the title number and ‘Coca-Cola revolve sequence’ and tell me any differently.
Felicity Calwell and Callum Bright have a marvelous on-stage chemistry, even more marvelous when you consider that Bright has only been rehearsing this role for 3 weeks, after unforeseen circumstances forced a vacancy in the role of Scott Hastings. A stand out in this production was the comedic stylings of the charming Tim Page, the powerhouse of a character actor that is Simone George and lovable Marc Calwell in their roles as Les Kendall, Shirley Hastings and Doug Hastings respectively. Jess Williams also made quite a splash as ‘Tina-Bloody-Sparkle’ with her dazzling vocals and Brent Street dance training that really came through during her time onstage.
Dazzling, high energy and great fun – I’d buy a ticket to see it again but the damnable thing is sold out! Here’s hoping it gets a well deserved return season.