Posted on June 4, 2021
Sometimes a show seems to have everything against it. Shortly before its run at the London Palladium, it was announced the following UK tour of Here Come the Boys was being postponed to 2022. On the evening I was in attendance, not only was there a sparse crowd due to social distancing, but we were informed that arguably the star with the biggest pulling power, Aljaž Škorjanec, had an injury and would be absent. With all of this in mind, my point is that this performance had no business being as wildly enjoyable as it was. The boisterous charisma of the cast and the audience’s anticipation at returning to live theatre was tangible, even without the charm of everyone’s favourite smooth talking Slovenian.
Following on from the first iteration of tours of the same name, Here Come the Boys was initially seen in 2019. It’s a wisely chosen antidote to 15 months of dark theatres – bright, high-energy, silly and a bit predictable with both the (predominantly female) audience and the cast having a fabulous time throughout.
As seen during the last touring run, proceedings are led by Beatboxer, Bass6, who MCs the four dance battles that loosely structure the show. The audience’s screams bear no relevance to who is announced the winner of each battle and, funnily enough, each member of the main cast gets a win under their belt and is allowed a few gracious words of thanks, the majority of which celebrate a return to performing.
Without Škorjanec, it’s down to current Strictly professional Graziano Di Prima and favourites of years past Pasha Kovalev and Robin Windsor to dazzle us. They are ably supported by a small troupe of female dancers including Ash-Leigh Hunter, Giada Lini, Rose Wild and Grace Cinque-White, who will be familiar faces to those who’ve attended Strictly shows previously. The show favours Latin styles and for the most part is well rehearsed and doesn’t rely too much on filler and chit chat. The playlist is modern and upbeat.
Nadiya Bychkova is drafted in to fulfil a “head girl” role. Her statuesque figure and elegant dance style mean she’s a capable lead, excelling in a stamina-sapping swing section and later in a sultry rumba. The script is a little hit and miss and requires Bychkova to deliver some corny lines that she manages with a smile, including introducing herself at one point as “Jane Bond, the first female Bond”. Let’s give her some better material to work with next time.
The four dance battles feature jive, rumba, ballroom (yes, all ballroom under one heading) and salsa. Host Karim Zeroual is an easy charmer, bringing some youthful energy to the line-up too. He keeps up with the professionals admirably, but his technique is more about enthusiasm than control. This aside, he’s likeable, watchable and keeps things moving and, because Strictly is for everyone, he’s also there to shoehorn in a TikTok dance section. Despite my inner horror, I had to admit the number featured some pretty slick contemporary and allowed troupe dancers Rose Wild, George Michealides and Mick Scott to shine.
A later segment allows its stars the opportunity to dance to some of their musical heroes. Windsor’s paso doble to Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” is beautifully choreographed, powerfully performed and strikes the right note for a theatrical comeback. Di Prima favours Enrique Iglesias, in a cha cha with fiancée Giada Lini. Together this pair caught my eye throughout the show, they clearly love dancing together, sharing a wonderful chemistry; they complement each other well in everything from bouncy swing numbers to their contribution in the rumba section. Not something I would describe as family viewing but it was certainly memorable…
The absence of Škorjanec was covered well in what must have been some very last-minute adaptations. The dance battles were reduced to three numbers each and assistant choreographer Scott Coldwell admirably filled in for Škorjanec in the group sections. He clearly knew the material he seamlessly covered in what could have been a show-stopping situation.
With some more Strictly tours falling foul of uncertainty over the reopening roadmap, director Gareth Walker and co should be commended for getting this show to the stage. It’s not an original concept but judging by the crowd surrounding me enjoying their interval wines and Graziano’s bare chest, Here Come the Boys is just the ticket right now.
Main image: From left, Aljaž Škorjanec, Pasha Kovalev, Karim Zeroual, Robin Windsor and Graziano Di Prima. Photograph courtesy of Here Come the Boys.