Monday, August 5, 2013

Strictly Ballroom returns home to Sydney

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Baz Luhrmann wants 'Strictly' stars

Can you tango, cha-cha and rumba? Director Baz Luhrmann is seeking out two new stars for the stage musical version of his hit movie, Strictly Ballroom.

Scott and Fran, where are you?

They'll dance with us, their way: the long-delayed Strictly Ballroom musical will finally preview at Sydney's Lyric Theatre from March 25 next year and open on April 12.

Director Baz Luhrmann, who created the story of ballroom dancing dreams and Aussie kitsch and camp, way back when he was a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, announced the news at Sydney Town Hall on Monday.

Paul Mercurio as Scott and Tara Morice as Fran in the 1992 movie Strictly Ballroom.

Paul Mercurio as Scott and Tara Morice as Fran in the 1992 movie 'Strictly Ballroom'.

Luhrmann, costume designer Catherine Martin, choreographer John "Cha Cha" O'Connell and co-script writer Craig Pearce, who all worked on the 1992 hit movie, have got back together to work on the musical.


Luhrmann said on Monday the story was originally a "response to the Cold War" and was about "overcoming oppression", employing the "transformative myth of the ugly ducking". The film version had many fans, he said: US president Bill Clinton told him he had played the movie in the White House six times.

The movie made stars of Paul Mercurio, who played Scott, and Tara Morice, who played Fran, an odd dancing couple who had just three weeks to shoot for stardom at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Championships.

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin attend The Great Gatsby premiere in New York in May.

Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin attend 'The Great Gatsby' premiere in New York in May. Photo: Getty Images

The dream of bringing this story to the stage stretches beyond the five weeks of auditions held in Sydney in June and July. Originally, the plan had been to launch Strictly Ballroom the Musical in September.

The delay was due to two factors: Luhrmann's perfectionist tweaking with his mega-hit movie The Great Gatsby; and creative producers Global Creatures launching their King Kong musical in Melbourne in June.

Luhrmann refused on Monday to say who would be cast as Scott and Fran – a global search is still under way to fill the roles. He said there would be some "leading lights" of the Australian theatre among the cast.

There would be new music but also old favourites such as the Cyndi Lauper-penned Time After Time.

Earlier this year, Global Creatures chief executive Carmen Pavolvic told Fairfax Media that the musical would live very happily without star names and with relative unknowns in the roles of Scott and Fran.

"Not that we would discount star names by the way - but I just don't think it's a piece that requires star casting," she said.

"The challenge for putting any film onto the stage is you want to preserve and repeat for the audience all the iconic moments and dialogue that they love, but at the same time you have to bring something new, otherwise you might as well leave it as a film."

On the question of finding the right Scott and Fran, Luhrmann said there had almost been the "right kind of glimmer" among those who had auditioned thus far, but the right people had not been found yet.

It seems unlikely that the leads would be found internationally, however, given the roles made famous by Mercurio and Morice are particularly Aussie.

When the 1992 film was released, it gained 13 Australian Film Institute nominations, winning eight categories.

Luhrmann's original 1984 short play as an acting student was based on his own earlier experiences as a competitive ballroom dancer. Its genesis was "drawn from my childhood experience".

"The world of ballroom dancing has these very strict rules about what is good and bad dance. The metaphor with which we began was about creative oppression and freedom; that artistic endeavour and the rule books don't really mix."
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