Entertainment & Arts

Strictly Ballroom the Musical earns mixed reviews

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical Image copyright James D. Morgan/REX
Image caption Strictly Ballroom: The Musical opened at the Sydney Lyric Theatre

Critics have said Baz Luhrmann's stage musical fails to live up to the magic of his 1992 film Strictly Ballroom, with the Sydney Morning Herald saying it "sparkles but falls short".

It premiered at Sydney's Lyric Theatre, telling the tale of a ballroom dancing couple who defy convention by dancing their own steps in a major competition.

The Hollywood Reporter said the musical featured "an unruly opening act".

The Guardian added it "somehow lacks the emotional tug of the film".

But Australia's Daily Telegraph praised the "crowd involvement" and said the stage production "packs way more sensory punch than the film ever could".

The Sydney Morning Herald added: "From the get-go, Strictly Ballroom the Musical shows a tendency to milk applause rather than earn it.

"Luhrmann's opening shot - ballroom dancers splashed across the stage - is a stunner. The show's promise is encapsulated in that moment. It is too quickly released, however. Within seconds, the stage is a restless, often indecipherable whirl."

But it was among several publications to praise the costumes by Catherine Martin, Luhrmann's long-time collaborator and wife, describing them as "a flashy eyeful", adding they "deserve every second they get in the spotlight".

Image copyright James D. Morgan/REX
Image caption Baz Luhrmann and Kylie Minogue, who had a small part in his film Moulin Rouge, posed for the cameras

The Guardian's reviewer complained that "despite fact that the glitz is laid on with a trowel, Strictly Ballroom the Musical takes a long time to ignite".

'Excess of dancers'

It said that it was not until the lead, Thomas Lacey as Scott Hastings, sang Shooting Star "that the show offers some emotional engagement, and starts to feel like a musical rather than a collection of gaudy set-pieces".

The Hollywood Reporter added that the on-stage spectacle detracted from the storytelling, saying "all that eager-to-please busyness leads to an unruly opening act in which an excess of dancers and their attendant backstories clog the plot".

It compared it unfavourably with the film, and said: "Much of the sly humour found in the film's send-up of its self-serious milieu is swamped by screechy theatrics."

The songs were described as "an eclectic mix of heartfelt love ballads, all-in, high-kicking showtunes, and comedic riffs" by Hollywood Reporter, while Broadway World.com said: "In terms of its songs, Strictly Ballroom the Musical isn't quite the traditional musical full of big numbers and music that feels consistent but then that is Baz, he doesn't follow; he leads."

Broadway World.com reserved its praise for the supporting actors rather than the stars of the show, saying: "Thomas Lacey (Scott) and Phoebe Panaretos (Fran) were solid in their respective roles but it was the supporting characters that really stole the show. "

Strictly Ballroom started life in 1984 as a 25 minute play, written by Luhrmann when he was at drama school and was the first in his Red Curtain Trilogy of films, followed by Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!

The trilogy has been described by Luhrmann as following a specific filmmaking technique, with each featuring a theatre motif that reappears throughout the film.

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