Review: Hale’s ‘Strictly Ballroom’ offers great moves, campy fun

Photo courtesy Hale Centre Theatre

SANDY, Utah, Feb. 17, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Baz Luhrmann’s latest mixtape musical, “Strictly Ballroom,” is in its U.S. premiere at Sandy’s Hale Centre Theatre.

If “Strictly Ballroom” sounds familiar, it’s because it lived previously as a campy 1992 film, and before that as a student film by Luhrmann and friends in 1984. More recently, the stage musical played in Australia, then was revised for a run on the London stage, where it earned generally positive reviews.

The Hale Centre Theatre’s production is playful, energetic, dazzling to watch and packed with bombastic characters with satisfying storylines.

Still set in the mid-1980s, “Strictly Ballroom” suffers slightly from a few dated references that don’t quite work, and laboring too hard for some jokes. The plot does take a winding road to get to its very satisfying ending.

The plot follows ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (played by Noah Bradford and Eric Ascione; roles are double cast), a young man trained for his whole life to compete for the national dance championship by performing traditional steps in a precise and non-innovative fashion.

But Scott has dance ideas of his own, and dreams of taking his art to a higher level of personal expression, against the wishes of his dance-school-operating mother Shirley Hastings (Claire Kenny/Julia Jolley) and the competition judge Barry Fife (Benjamin J. Henderson/B.J. Whimpey), who is comically tan, manipulative, narcissistic, and wholly invested in tradition.

When Scott’s partner tires of his ballroom “shenanigans” and ditches him, a potential new partner, Fran (Serena Kozusko/Payton Prince) steps forward. She’s mousy and unskilled, but she believes in Scott and has a strong work ethic. She also has a father and grandmother who know a thing or two about being true to who they are.

Added for the London production was a narrator, who sings many of the songs and helps move the story along. That character, Wally Strand (Quinn Dietlein/Conlon Bonner), is a real asset to the storytelling.

The music, directed by Dietlien, is top notch, with live accompaniment by six musicians. Dancing by the lead characters and by ensemble artists is amazing. Moves were choreographed by show director/choreographer Jennifer Hill Barlow, choreographer Afton Wilson, and flamenco choreographer Solange Gomes.

Costumes always dazzle at the Hale, and “Strictly Ballroom” is more sparkling than most shows. The results were a credit to designer Maryann Hill. All technical and design aspects of the show were up to the Hale’s usual high standards.

“Strictly Ballroom” offers ’80s nostalgia; music by Sting, Cindy Lauper, David Bowie and others; stellar performances; goofiness; and all the sparkle you can handle.

Hale Centre Theater, at the Mountain America Performing Arts Center, is at 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy. For showtimes and ticket information, click here.


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