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Strictly Speaking: Week 7

Posted on December 7, 2020

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Well, that was a jolly Musicals Week. Although very strange to think it’s already the quarter-finals, when it feels like we’ve only just begun the series. Product of both a shorter Strictly, and time losing all meaning in 2020. I’m both relieved we’re nearly at the end of this year and sad that our sparkly favourite is departing so soon.

Anyhow, on with the show. This series’ Musicals Week had a special intro from the Lord himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has been at the forefront of efforts to get theatres open again – even taking part in the Oxford vaccine trial. Shots of empty venues will always make me tear up, and it felt particularly meaningful that Strictly was honouring the industry in a difficult time. Even if that included shoving Phantom down the throat of an Argentine tango.

It was also apt that this was the week we finally ejected JJ from the ballroom. If ever there was a show when you needed to actually deliver a performance, rather than skate by on general good looks/stirring backstory/being mates with Prince Harry, it was this one. He just wasn’t at the same level as the others, and it would have felt unfair if he’d continued any longer at the expense of a better celeb.

Other hits and misses:
  • All hail the amazing Priscilla pro opening. Camp, us? HIT
  • SUCH a joy not having extra dancers trampling around on Musicals Week. HIT
  • Ditto relatively restrained set-pieces and props. At least the hilariously unconvincing CGI doesn’t physically impede anyone. HIT
  • Hurrah for some modern musicals in this year’s batch. Although one was weirdly presented – more below… HIT/MISS
  • A much saner leaderboard this week, though still disconnect between comments and marks. Why did HRVY outscore Maisie? And surely Ranvir was worthy of a 10, given some of the other dances that have bafflingly nabbed one? MISS 
  • & Juliet! If you haven’t seen it yet, this is a really fun West End trip: Shakespeare-riffing with Max Martin songs – think Britney, Katy Perry, Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande etc. HIT
  • Marisha Wallace gave us a gorgeous rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. Anton and Dianne did a mix of ballroom (yay) and contempo-waft (LOL no, that is not for you, Anton). HIT
Best in Show
  • Best performance: Ranvir’s Viennese waltz A beautiful blend of ballroom and storytelling.
  • Best costume: Johannes the fab-u-lous drag queen Get him an amazing male celeb next year, please!
  • Best move: Motsi juggling her paddle At least she got it the right way up, or that might have become a shock 6.
  • Best line: Craig rebranding as “CRH”. It went down better than GOAT, anyway.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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How many buttons is too many? This many. Plus a weird Playboy Bunny collar. Claud the winner in a sparkly white suit.


JJ and Amy – Cruise control

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This was a fairly easy assignment: a cheery Chitty Charleston, and yet fatally exposing for JJ, as we FINALLY crowbarred him out of ballroom. There was lots of My First Ballet Class jumping around (“I’m a rabbit, Mummy!”), with rigid posture, flat feet and great gaping caverns between each sequence where JJ dropped the performance altogether. I don’t believe Charleston needs alarming amounts of gurning, but it does require vivid characterisation; that was absent too. The swivel was decent, and Amy kept the routine pretty simple so he could stay on top of it, but it was too samey, and placed rather than sold.

Song: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patrick Robinson and Anya)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said he kept his long legs coordinated. Motsi liked his smile, but work on continuing the movement. Craig found it too stop and start. Good swivel and elevation, but should have been goofier.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7 – 20


Ranvir and Giovanni – Baked goods

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Admittedly, the song did a lot of work here – it’s basically impossible to hear this number and remain dry-eyed, but I’d still argue that Ranvir and Gio were the best storytellers on Musicals Week, and their, er, intimacy (not that we’re believing the tabloids) served them particularly well here, adding real authenticity to the relationship. However, that was all balanced with some truly beautiful ballroom. Ranvir’s topline is really magnificent, and so well sustained throughout. The steps were smooth rather than skippy – though missing some heel leads – and we had a controlled standing spin and nicely danced fleckerl, all powered by the music. Gorgeous.

Song: “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress

Judges’ comments: Motsi got emotional, and praised her confidence and standing spin. Craig thought the story was totally believable and frame fantastic, but the running away was a bit messy. Shirley called it poetry in motion and said her fleckerl footwork was the best she’d seen.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9 – 27


Maisie and Gorka – Green shoots

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Maisie proved to be a true triple threat here: a brilliant jive, fun characterisation, and doing it all with That Thing perched atop her poor head. (Moira Rose called: she does NOT want this wig back.) Still, once you got past the knock-off Sandy from Grease-meets-skinned puppy atrocity, this was a seriously impressive number. The fragmented song meant it required even more control – like stopping dead mid-jive kicks, wow – and adapting to changes of rhythm. The swing jive was particularly fab, and the energy brilliant. She could still work more on pointing her toes and articulating her footwork, but definite improvement. Sidenote: loved the CGI Audrey II appearing and being completely ignored. Quite right.

Song: “Little Shop of Horrors” from Little Shop of Horrors (COPYCAT KLAXON: Audley Harrison and Natalie, Mark Wright and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Craig said she smashed it. Shirley praised all the difficult timings and her feet are looking better. Motsi loved the musical interpretation and acting.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9 – 28


Bill and Oti – Unmasked

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Well, a couple of challenges here: Bill, bless him, was never really going to convince as tango sex god; and I don’t think 1980s Phantom bombast fits with the quiet intensity of Argentine tango – unless you go full camp. Overall, I thought they did a decent job here. It was atmospheric, if overly busy with the smoke monster, and there were some good details with the brisk ganchos, contrasted with a still frame. However, it was rather too apparent that Oti was doing most of the work here; Bill was a support for her, yes, but not in control of the dance. Also: what was with the teeny-tiny, painted-on mask? If there was ever time when we could easily source a mask, surely it’s 2020…

Song: “The Phantom of the Opera” from The Phantom of the Opera (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kara Tointon and Artem, Katie Derham and Anton, Davood Ghadami and Nadiya)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted it’s difficult for the celeb man to lead, so he did well. Off-balance at the end, but good presence. Motsi liked his use of feet and frame. Craig noted a sticky moment, but good control. “Phantasmagorical.”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24


HRVY and Janette – Hat tricks

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First off, this definitely should have been their Couple’s Choice instead. Then they could have gone full stagey jazz – and I could judge it on those terms. Instead, I’m going to be slightly Grinch-like and say that this was meant to be American smooth, but was far too frantic, plus that final Janette-circus-act lift felt completely wrong for the style. Foxtrot wise, no differentiation between quicks and slows, lacked flow and driving heel leads, and a weirdly high left elbow. Out of hold, really slick and speedy, though the odd timing error and slip, and would have loved to see him enjoying it more in his facial expressions. In particular, he showed his fear of the stairs all the way down.

Song: “One” from A Chorus Line (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Motsi loved that the choreography really challenged him. Craig noted some timing mistakes, otherwise “like looking in a mirror, darling”. Shirley praised the routine and performance.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39


Jamie and Karen – Bottom of the class

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So, it really felt like the BBC went out of its way NOT to articulate that this musical is about a gay teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen, and who fights to wear a dress at his school prom. Anyone unfamiliar with the show was probably wondering why those identical twins were getting high on break-time chocolate. A missed opportunity to showcase a genuinely progressive new musical – and frankly this routine could have used the help. It was a pale imitation of Kate Prince’s choreo from the show, which is similarly energetic but also crisp and purposeful. Here, it just looked like Jamie was having a breakdown while moving furniture. Clompy, flat-footed, too-large jive basics (with trainers again!), lacked bounce and retraction – plus Karen physically hiding him for half the routine.

Song: “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more technique, but praised his enthusiasm. Shirley said he was light on his feet, but a misstep in the middle. Motsi liked the use of props and improved musicality, but work on the technique.~

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24


Leaderboard

HRVY and Janette – 29

Maisie and Gorka – 28

Ranvir and Giovanni – 27

Bill and Oti – 24

Jamie and Karen – 24

JJ and Amy – 20

HRVY keeps the top spot. Ranvir and Bill are up, Jamie and JJ down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Off-the-shoulder jumpsuit with weird voluminous sleeves. Claud a metallic blouse with pussy bow.

Dance-off

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The two Js: Jamie and Karen versus JJ and Amy. Rather surprisingly, Motsi voted for JJ to stay, citing “a little hiccup” in Jamie’s jive, but Craig and Shirley saved Jamie.

What did you make of Musicals Week? Who was your favourite? Which couples would you like to see in the final? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you again soon for our two-dance semi-final. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs: Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC.

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at mkmswain.com.

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at mkmswain.com.

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