Friday, October 13, 2017

STRICTLY BALLROOM



Book by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Adapted by Terry Johnson
Directed by Chris Baldock
Music Direction by Rhys Madigan
Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Theatre to 28 October

Reviewed by Len Power 12 October 2017

When a stage musical works, there is no other theatrical experience that can match it.  You can experience that phenomenon simply by seeing Philo’s latest production of ‘Strictly Ballroom’ at the Erindale Theatre.

Originally conceived as a short play by Baz Luhrmann, then a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), ‘Strictly Ballroom’ became a highly successful musical film.  A professional stage version of the film, also directed by Luhrmann, opened in Sydney in 2014.  Canberra Philharmonic Society is the first non-professional Australian company to present the musical.

The director, Chris Baldock, wisely keeps the heightened reality of the film and ensures that this fairy tale of a ballroom dancer who rebels by wanting to do his own steps in a competition meets audience expectations.  Then he takes it to another level with a complex production that’s breath-taking in its theatrical surprises, making this one of the most memorable productions Canberra has seen in a long time.

The show has a huge cast, all of whom give fine performances, vocally and dramatically.  In the leading role of the dancer, Scott Hastings, Joel Hutchings gives a heroic performance, displaying strong singing, dancing and acting skills.  He is matched every step of the way with a delightfully feisty performance by Ylaria Rogers as Fran, the initially uninspiring dancer who shows she is a perfect match for him on the dance floor and beyond.

Amongst the sixteen major roles there are standout performances by Tracy Noble, Ian Croker, Kirrily Cornwell, Pat Gallagher, Paul Sweeney and Berin Denham.  Tom├ís Dietz stopped the show with his paso doble dance and the very young couple, Isabella Fraser and Jake Keen, danced and sang charmingly and brought the house down with their expert handling of a costume problem during their dance.

Musical direction by Rhys Madigan is excellent and the orchestra played the different musical styles very well.  Ian Croker’s set looks good and flows nicely from scene to scene.  Lighting design by Phil Goodwin is imaginative and well-executed.

Anna Senior provides spectacular and colourful ballroom costumes and Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock deserve the highest praise for their choreography which everyone in the company performs with confidence and polish.

This show was so good that it almost seems like it was just a dream I had.  Good musical theatre can do that to you.  Don’t miss this one!

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

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