Strictly bad boy comes good

Brendan Cole - Live and unjudged

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

IT HAS been a strictly Strictly weekend with the Strictly Come Dancing Live at the NIA, Anton & Erin at Symphony Hall and finally bad boy Brendan at the Alex.

As for bad boy . . . well that doesn't apply to his dancing which covers everything from raunchy to graceful and elegant with movement as smooth as silk. He is a pretty good boy out on the dance floor.

Not that he is alone with older brother Scott and Andrew Cuerden joining him along with Hanna Haarala, Izabela Rai and Melanie Hooper to provide six world class ballroom dancers – which if nothing else shows the power of television.

Before Strictly it is unlikely any theatre in the land would have contemplated booking anything to do with ballroom dancing unless they were looking for a hefty tax loss.

The average man, or woman, in the street asked to name a ballroom dancer would have stared blankly or asked hesitantly if Lionel Blair counted. It was a closed world, closer to the wonderful comedy Strictly Ballroom than show business.

Now ballroom dancers, or at least those with a berth on Strictly, are household names and, helped as well by films such as Billy Elliot and Dirty Dancing, dance is popular again as can be seen from West End shows such as Top Hat and Singin' In The Rain.

It is not just TV though. In Live and Unjudged the six dancers, led by Cole, show amazing skill worthy of a much wider audience than found at competitions in ballrooms around the country.

Mind you It is called ballroom dancing for a reason, it is for a ballroom such as the huge Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, surely the most wondrous and beautiful ballroom in the land – my parents took me there once for a Reginald Dixon concert – a vast expanse of shiny floor.

So to get three couples in tails and gowns sweeping around a small stage, made even smaller by an excellent 14 piece band and two vocalists filling more than half of it, is a feat in itself and to manage to dance there with grace and elegance and, at times, shear beauty, showed not only some fine choreography but tremendous technical skill.

This is from observation rather than experience mind you as I freely admit to having the sort of dancing ability that would make John Sergeant look like Gene Kelly.

Cole (B) broke up the evening into what was essentially dance in the first half and ballroom in the second which included a very honest Q&A session.

He was not on the Strictly tour, for example, because he was asked three years ago and did not like the amount of money being offered to the professionals – those are the ones who actually know what they are doing – and the amounts being offered to judges – who don't have to do anything - and the celebrities – the ones who don't actually know what they are doing.

It was also obvious that his relationship with Lulu is unlikely to result in them being invited to each other's homes for dinner.

As for birthdays? None of this shout happy birthday from the stage, he was down there among them with birthday greetings in person. Great stuff and the audience lapped it up.

Throughout it all Cole came over as charming, funny, and a really nice bloke, and very much at ease with an audience that he teased and pleased in equal measure, and worked like a pro, and work he did with a show that overran its estimated end time by more than half an hour.

He has the chat and the charm but it is when he dances that he really speaks and two of the highlights, partly because of the vocals, were the Viennese Waltz with all six dancers involved with a stunning version of Whitney Houston's I Have Nothing from singer Julie Maguire and a visually beautiful English Waltz from Brendan and Izabela Rai with Iain Mackenzie singing the haunting Kenny Rogers number If I Were a painting.

He even sang a couple of numbers, with a passable voice, including a duet of Michael Buble's Home with Mackenzie and we had a dancing lesson for a salsa with a class of a roughly 1300 capacity crowd.

The pupils varied from determination – a lady in a striped top has probably not concentrated as hard since school a long time ago – to the famed dad's dance, bent arms held at the side like an arthritic chicken and a sort of rocking shuffle from side to side more or less in time to the music.

 “No matter what Brendan says these are the steps I do. This is my Salsa”.

There was also a gent with a benign smile and hands in pockets who must have been breathing in time to the music as nothing else was moving. Stell it tested the strength of the dress circle and grand circle.

That morphed  into Jonny's Mambo and the end of the first half  which had opened with Oh Fortuna and a spectacular Paso Doble,  with swirling capes, followed by tangos and an audience participation Cha Cha Cha.

A mention here for an inventive shadow dance to Purple Rain with Brendan, Hanna and Melanie and a stunning guitar solo from Adam Martin.

The second half saw the elegance of ballroom and it all ended with an all-action jive with everyone on their feet to round off what was a thoroughly entertaining evening.

Roger Clarke

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