Baz Luhrman’s musical of his iconic film fares no better abroad than it did at home.
Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom: The Musical has opened in Leeds to a string of three-star reviews and more or less the same lukewarm reception it received in Australia in 2014.
Respected British musicals critic Mark Shenton described the production, playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, as “energetic but clunky-looking” in a review for thestage.co.uk. “On one hand, it soars, simmers and shimmers,” he writes, “but Luhrmann’s story… is a bit of a dead weight.”
“The piece is undoubtedly high on schmaltz and camp,” wrote James Willstrop in a three-star review for What’sOnStage. “The story has the Hollywood formula underpinning it and whilst this didn’t hold the film back, the high emotional points are not as emphatic or profound on stage, nor the humour as biting.”
“The grand finale, a big lug of Vanda and Young’s Love is in the Air, is sickly with schmaltz… High camp gives way to low cheer,” complained Matt Trueman in Variety, while Claire Allfree praised Fernando Mira as Rico in a three-star review for The Telegraph, writing “his performance is steeped in passion, danger and brilliance: precisely the qualities this show, entertaining thought it is, never fully attains.”
This seems to sum up the response to the musical – adapted from the 1992 film by Terry Johnson – echoing the reviews two years ago in Sydney. “It all feels far too diverse,” wrote Limelight Editor Clive Paget at the time, “veering from pop song to classical remix to musical theatre pastiche, without a sufficiently linking aesthetic in orchestration or sound design.” “Worst offender is probably the new lyrics,” he said, “With the exception of Eddie Perfect’s contributions, these are poorly crafted, awkwardly glued on and frequently inaudible.”
Limelight’s Deputy Editor Jo Litson wrote in The Sunday Telegraph in 2014, “Though Luhrmann delivers an enjoyable show, Strictly Ballroom frustratingly never truly soars.”
It’s not all bad news for the musical, however. Drew McOnie’s choreography was universally praised in the UK and Yvette Huddleston, writing for The Yorkshire Post, was effusive, describing Strictly Ballroom as “a warm hug of a Christmas show – the perfect antidote to the troubling times we are living in, pure escapism of the very best kind.”