What do the critics think of Strictly Ballroom the Musical? We review the reviews.
Baz Luhrmann returns to the stage with a new musical version of his breakthrough 1992 film. Strictly Ballroom began its life 30 years ago at NIDA as a play, and it’s now come full circle with a multi-million dollar musical produced by Global Creatures, the company behind King Kong. There’s no six-metre gorilla, but there is a gigantic mirrorball and enough sequins to make Mardi Gras look bland. The show stars relative unknowns Thomas Lacey and Phoebe Panaretos as Scott and Fran, alongside stage veterans such as Robert Grubb, Heather Mitchell and Drew Forsythe.
If it’s genius, as he and others would have us believe, it’s a capricious kind of genius, not a cohesive one. One minute you could almost be in a Fellini film. Or a Tony Gatlif one. At other times, you could only be in Australia, this side of a lamington drive or garage sale. Strictly Ballroom is strictly Baz. READ OUR REVIEW
What the other critics say
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that critics have labelled a Baz Luhrmann project a bit too messy, with not quite enough depth, but sumptuous, flashy visuals. Catherine Martin, hot off her latest Oscar win, has created spectacular sets and costumes, but Luhrmann’s storytelling doesn’t quite measure up. Most critics have taken issue with the cohesiveness of the score, made up of both classic pop songs from the original film soundtrack and new compositions from artists including Sia, Eddie Perfect and Diane Warren. But there have been some rave reviews, nobody has called the show a complete failure, and every mixed review suggests that the show is redeemable. Consensus rating: 6/10
“Musically speaking, Barry Fife’s Dance to Win, written by Eddie Perfect, is one of the few jewels among commissioned songs that are generically attractive but dramatically ineffective. In Love is in the Air, the show has its anthem, but the potential for its use as a teasing leitmotif is overlooked. Luhrmann should have made a genuine jukeboxer out of Ballroom and saved everyone a lot of time and money. That way, we might have been dancing in the aisles, just as the show’s creators no doubt dreamed we would.” Jason Blake, Sydney Morning Herald
“Both young performers are up against it, though, in a show that’s musically erratic and, I would suggest, hasn’t yet found its final shape. In cleaving so closely to his film, now more than 20 years old and being presented in yet another medium, Luhrmann hasn’t taken the imaginative leap one might have expected. He has made safe choices.” Deborah Jones, The Australian
“There’s a lot of crowd involvement and the score is a mix of old and new, known hits such as Time After Time and Love Is In The Air used perfectly combined with new works penned by Pearce and Luhrmann as well as a huge cast of other collaborators including comedy cabaret king Eddie Perfect. It’s a wonderfully antipodean outing and will flourish in the wild once inevitably released onto the world’s stages but in the meantime catch a great Aussie story right here where it began some 30 years ago.” Chris Hook, Daily Telegraph
“Strictly Ballroom the Musical somehow lacks the emotional tug of the film. The characters are painted with such broad strokes that it’s hard really to care about them – Fran begins the show as a borderline hysterical and socially awkward frump, then suddenly morphs into a pasa doble-ing woman of style and integrity. Luhrmann’s traditional strong suit, his use of music, also founders.” Alex Needham, The Guardian
“Strictly Ballroom the Musical could be a beautifully offbeat love story: between Scott and Fran, between Scott and dance, between dance sport and dance as culture, between bodies and expression, between families. Instead, it is a high-glitz explosion of colour, light, and sparkles. And that’s all.” Cassie Tongue, AussieTheatre
“The verdict? This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the show, and reckons there’s something in there for the less critical viewer who is willing to get swept up in the sequins and samba. A seasoned show it ain’t, but this stage adaptation definitely has legs.” Dee Jefferson, Time Out Sydney
“The show has ambitions. There’s clearly a great deal of money sunk in this one and it must have Broadway firmly in its sights. In its current form, I can’t help but think US critics, who are passionate about the musical and care about things like craft and form, would have it for breakfast. So, back to the drawing board perhaps? It’s not all doom and gloom for Luhrmann – a great many people clearly enjoyed the experience – but there were also several near me who didn’t stick around for the second half.” Clive Paget, Limelight
Hit and miss, with the moments of spectacle you’d expect from Luhrmann.