Based on Baz Luhrmann’s 90’s Australian hit classic, Strictly Ballroom the Musical made its debut last Wednesday at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre.
The musical begins with ballroom male prodigy star Scott Hastings, played by Sam Lips, when he decides to move to his own rhythm by breaking away from the expected rigid ballroom tradition and improvise his dance moves during a practice performance. Completely appalled by his erratic interpretive dance, Hastings Ballroom partner (Lauren Stroud) decides that she must find a new dance partner, leaving Hastings in the dust and in need of a replacement. Naturally this is when our diamond in the rough, Fran or ‘Just Fran’ (Gemma Sutton) some how finds the confidence after two years of hiding in the studio broom closet, to ask Hastings to be her partner. He somehow complies and the dazzling, hilarious rom-com begins.
Now where would a musical be without over the top divas with fake hair and even faker personalities? Obviously before he finally agrees to dance with timid Fran he try’s out a bevy of experienced drama queens, who are actually all played by one actress, Michelle Bishop. This is one of the funniest scenes in the musical by far, as each and every new character that is brought to Hastings is even more obscure and ridiculous then the next. Very dramatic, very Ross Petty.
As the play unfolds, the musical numbers by Fran and Hastings Australian comrades captivate and transfix the audience like any Broadway musical should; with over the top dance moves, longer then life legs and of course sequins, tinsel and sparkles from head to toe.
Although I had not seen the original movie production in about 10 years what I do remember vividly is the character development in Fran and the intense dance finale. Naturally, Fran’s character development is what was most heavily anticipated in the entire performance – we all want to see the underdog go from zero to hero and the golden boy help make her shine – but unfortunately that manifestation and Spanish inspired performance fell flat in the play adaption. That magnetism just wasn’t there, the romance and passion not even close to a boiling point. Perhaps it was the comparison of Fran to the rest of her long legged professional dancer cast or the lack of physical transformation in costume and confidence? We might never know but nevertheless, there were definitely redeemable standing ovation scenes from the rest of the cast.
One of the most memorable scenes hands down would have to be when Hastings makes his way to the moody urban Spanish Quarters of the city. As Fran’s father Rico accidentally catch both his daughter and her partner dancing he immediately sizes up Hastings when he attempts to dance the traditional Paso Doble. Rico mocks his dance and shows him that dancing comes from the heart not the head by dancing the Paso Doble impeccably. Frans father Rico played by Frenando Mira, was the most authentic dancer of the entire production and, dare I say, for a moment stole the show entirely. Lastly, Fran’s Abuela added an extra touch of badass grandmother to make that scene the showstopper of the night.
Overall, Strictly Ballroom was truly a great time with Broadway worthy musical acts and dancers. It will definitely make you feel like getting on your dancing shoes, finding the nearest salsa lounge and refreshing your dance steps to remember the beauty and freedom that dancing can bring.
Playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre from May 4 – June 25th, 2017.
Visit the Mirvish website for more info and tickets.