Strictly stars Aljaz & Janette pay tribute to Fred Astaire in the hotly anticipated new theatre show. TANYA LOUISE RAYBOULD went along and stepped back in time to relive special moments from the career of the dancing extraordinaire in this magical journey of dance, live music and entertainment
The year is 2017, but the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham has been transported back in time to the golden era of dance to celebrate choreographer, actor, singer, dancer and legend, Fred Astaire.
It’s weird set up, we the audience of the near full theatre, play the role of an audience who have gone to watch the recording of a radio show, except that radio show is about dance….on the radio?! following? Throw into the mix that the voice of Michael Ball is talking to ‘voices in the dark’ about their memories of Fred, and it’s slightly confusing as to what era we are meant be in.
Overthink it and shouldn’t work, but it somehow does. Throughout the evening we learn from the ‘voices’, which include Don Black, Bruce Oldfield, Darcy Bussell, Twiggy and Rita Hayworth, about the man whose sister named him ‘Moaning Minnie’ due to the fact he was such a worrier, and about how much work went into every routine, many unique for the era, to make it step perfect. This talented cast have painstakingly replicated such choreography to put together a show to remember, to keep the memory of Fred Astaire alive.
We begin with our compere, David Paige, announcing our ‘show’ will be going live on the radio, before introducing a cast of four dancers, six musicians and a fellow vocalist to performing the opening number ‘Top Hat’. Our Stars of the show, Strictly Come Dancing’s Aljaz Skorjanec and Janette Manrara, then rise up onto the stage courtesy of a hidden hatch and hydraulics (think Windy Miller on Camblewick Green). The pair, a couple in ‘real life’ shimmy down a set of steps, very similar to the set of Strictly, to the sounds of Cheek to Cheek.
Many of the songs,classics from the American Songbook were written over 80 years ago by George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter , and you feel some have stood the test of time better than others as we continue through a set which includes Night and Day, Who’s Had The Last Laugh and Lets Call The Whole Thing Off. The girls wearing just the right amount of floaty sequinned dresses, Strictly hunk Aljaz’s shirt at all times just unbuttoned enough to give the suggestion of the bare muscular chest beneath.
Directed by Gareth Walker, The couple dance in beautiful harmony together, like two pieces of a fluid, moving jigsaw, faultless in timing. Their skills spotlighted with some impressive lifts and nifty footwork to A Fine Romance.
The difference between this show from the producer of Darcey Bussell’s & Katherine Jenkins’ Viva La Diva, and the third visit from Strictly stars to the Concert Hall this year, is that it has a theme. Anton and Erin, Brendon Cole are very much the Anton and Erin and Brendon Cole shows, whereas as much as Aljaz and Janette are the stars of the evening, you feel more like it’s guest starring, rather than it being their vehicle. The only time we actually hear the couple speak is in the second half of the show when our compere interviews them. We learn at what age they started dancing and that they are getting married this summer (that girl is going to have to have an amazing dress to beat some of the costumes) and, and this is the first mention of Strictly; which they describe as ‘a dream come true’, we hear how as part of the show they constantly look back to the work of Fred Astaire for inspiration for the ‘American Smooth'; a dance which tells a story. Whist the cast are all very talented, you feel you want to see more of our mesmerising stars than you do, although Janette’s dive from the top of the stairs, to be caught by the other dancers below is a showstopper.
As the voice of Michael Ball states about the films of Fred and Ginger:
“The plots were gossamer thin but the outfits and choreography were nigh on perfect. The chemistry of Fred and Ginger made the films a triumph.” the same could be said of our modern day Fred and Ginger, Aljaz and Janette, and their evening of nostalgia, Remembering Fred.
By Tanya Louise Raybould