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Strictly Ballroom: Press Launch. 14th February 2018.

February 14, 2018

The Café de Paris in Coventry Street, London, was the chosen venue. Historic, with a fabulous circular dance floor and twin curved staircases, nowhere could be finer to introduce this new West End show to the large invited crowd.

The odd flute of champagne and tray of canapés to begin, then Mr Will Young (who will play Wally Strand in the show) himself struck up with Cyndi Lauper’s classic “Time After Time” as Jonny Labey (Scott Hastings) and Zizi Strallen (Fran) swept down the stairs and took to the dance floor in a demonstration of ballroom holding the room enthralled. Adding to the display, various other members of the cast, the ladies in particularly sumptuous gowns (Catherine Martin) formed a tableau behind, framing the scene.

Mr Young then admitted that a West End musical is a new departure for him, and that though he personally feels himself inferior to the film, he can’t wait to start.

He then introduced Carmen Pavlovic of producer “Global Creatures.” Originally founded in Australia 10 years ago, their aim is to develop shows in Australia that can be exported worldwide. “Muriel’s Wedding” was one, and they have “Moulin Rouge” opening in Boston in July, “King Kong” on Broadway this autumn and “Walking With Dinosaurs” in arenas in the UK this year too.

“Strictly Ballroom,” though, is the project for the West End, and the excitement is building for them. Baz Luhrmann (who couldn’t make it today) and Catherine Martin originated the show in Australia, and feel that 25 years after the original movie, the themes remain relevant – indeed the ideas of remaining true to beliefs and ending dictatorship are even stronger now.

For the team, the idea of Spanish immigrant families like Fran’s are fascinating. Those families ran Australia’s bodegas (corner shops) and have tight communities. Scott’s entry into it, and the idea of Fran’s father – Rico – introducing him to it is a key story element. The casting of Fernando Mira, who originated the role, highlights the importance of flamenco in the show, underlining the origins. A brief performance today previews a highlight to come.

Noting this authenticity, Will Young remarked that his own family have Australian roots, with one a Governor in Australia. He then went on to introduce 4 Academy Awards, 5 BAFTA and 1 Tony award winning Catherine Martin, adjusting the microphone for her stature… causing the tiny Ms Martin to have to collapse it back down to her real height, very quickly…

Catherine Martin opened by saying that Baz Luhrmann felt the line “I have been with your father for twenty-five years – do you think I get bored? Of course I do!” resonates still, and that the story of youthful rebellion grows stronger as the years pass. The show itself originated during her time at NADA, before she met Baz. In her second year it won “best play” in Bratislava, due to the theme of dance on stage – the feeling of NAFOD (National Federation of Dance) resonating with the country.
It is the spirit of introducing dance steps and not living in fear when individualism triumphs that means the most.

Choreographer Drew Mconie then spoke about his own first encounter with the film. A working class Birmingham boy, he saw a young voice leaping forwards. Drew himself was a forgetful ballroom competitor at a young age – substituting his own steps when he couldn’t remember the right ones (to the dance tutor’s chagrin). Dancing alone in his bedroom to “Time After Time” made Drew want to choreograph and “do his own thing, and he hopes that the energy of the show will land with London audiences and carry them along for the evening.

The event concluded with Zizi Strallen and Jonny Labey, together with the other dance pairs taking to the floor for Will Young’s vocal “Love Is In The Air.” An appropriate way to end the presentation.

With a quick thanks for a rather marvellous “goodie bag” (save a little for the merchandise stall at the theatre), this looks to be something special for Spring in the West End.


“Strictly Ballroom” previews from 29th March, opening on 24th April 2018 at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.



Photo credit (top – the group, and middle – Jonny Labey, Ziz Strallen, Will Young): Jay Brooks. Used by kind permission.

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