Saturday, 23 August 2014

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical is Baz Lurhmann's stage musical iteration of his successful 1992 film 'Strictly Ballroom'. It depicts the shenanigans behind the management of competitive amateur dance and it contains an 'ugly duck' romance. The film was a bit of a surprise hit. It was very Australian in style, humour, language and theme which I would have thought might have precluded it from repeating its success overseas but successful worldwide it proved to be.

I was a bit ambivalent about seeing this stage version until last Monday night when I saw an excerpt from the production in the television screening of the Helpmann Awards and so thrilling was that excerpt that I immediately booked to see the show.

The musical opens with a 'MC' geeing up the audience in preparation for the show to follow. As best my memory serves me the show then follows pretty closely the plot and key moments of the movie. A large company fills the stage with seemingly endless dance action. It is all rather noisy and I did have difficulty at times hearing some of the dialogue and in focussing on the shifting locations of key action with so much happening simultaneously across the stage. A bit of a failure in the staging, I believe.

It seems essential in two act plays - musicals especially - that the first act conclude with a bang. You don't want the audience to have a reason not to return after interval even if most of what preceded it hasn't engaged their interest so that first act big finish is important. For an hour I found the first act of Strictly Ballroom: The Musical to be a bit disappointing. The large company worked hard, dancing very impressively, but at times the quality of the dialogue and situations portrayed didn't match their efforts.

Then came the first act climax; as it happens the scene that had so impressed me when staged at the Helpmanns. It was easily the best segment of the first act. Finally the audience was treated to some real drama and passion, fine music - Bizet's Carmen; in fact - and even better dancing.

The second act continued some of the theme introduced in that pre-interval climax and the second half of the show was all the better for that.

I'm loathe to mark the production down given how hard the large company works to deliver this show; their efforts really were impressive but it seems to me the musical needs some refinement.

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