Last Saturday night a mobile phone rang somewhere in Hackney. A lady answered it.
‘Hello, Charlie, luv.’
‘Mum, you’ll never guess . . . ’
‘Fourth dance off?’
‘Ashley . . .’
‘I’ll put the kettle on.’
Or something like that, you know the drill.
And so it came to pass.
It was Musicals Week at Elstree, the Surviving Six, two men, four women, heaven strike me down if I call them girls or chicks, both terms of endearment, all ready to benefit from the greatest theatrical productions that the show has ever seen. Majestic. Genius. And I undersell it.
But Caveat Emptor, buyer beware, because underneath such grandiose showboating there were tricks aplenty, disguise, cracks to be papered, remembering we can dodge the elephant but not the fly.
I saw West Side Story at the local pally last year, Jets, Sharks, a hot Latino, knife crime, the world still the same 57 years since the movie rocked Hollywood. Charlie was given the lead playing Tony, no Natalie Wood in sight, the song Maria, the plot rather similar to Romeo and Juliet, just showing how much writers’ imaginations have developed in the last four centuries.
‘Ere, Jerome, can you think of anything?’
‘No, Ernie . . . we could always nick some Shakespeare . . . ‘
And Tony, the reluctant brawler, dies.
You’d have thought that Charlie would have sussed it, but no, like a lemming drawn to a cliff, in he jumped to be churned out by the Strictly machine. To be fair, his dance deserved it, the Rumba, a brand new dance to him, slow, technical, the foot placement oh, so important.
The song, ‘Maria’, has an impossible Rumba beat, they might as well have danced to the Birdie Song. It is fast, it is slow, it is fast, it is slow, but the lack of a consistent rhythm means that you can do what you like to whatever tempo you like and they duly obliged. Capturing the love story beautifully couldn’t hide the feet. The hips couldn’t hide the feet. ‘Bolted to the floor,’ commented one juddge. Charlie doesn’t do slow, technical dances and he will be thankful that he has no more to deprive him of sleep. Saying this was a Rumba was like calling the ‘Mona Lisa’ Cubist.
And the theme continued as the now last man standing, Joe the Roofer, was back in the high school production, dancing that old Biblical Salsa classic, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Raincoat’, the high point being when our host, Joe, was pushed vertically skywards by two male support dancers. Before that who knows what went on. There was some Salsa of sorts, blocky, telegraphed choreography, nothing believable, an homage to the Hand Jive (Grease), Jane Fonda’s aerobics were back, as was the Depeche Mode guy liner. He really does like make-up, doesn’t he? And there were some lovely pastel flares. More Cubism.
That’s it for the male species. It’s either Joe or Joe. Mankind beware.
Now, the charitable amongst you might think I’m being harsh but look at what he is up against: two pros, the People’s Champion and a World Champion, the latter pair who benefited from some unsubtle, unforgiveable subterfuge from the BBC.
Just three weeks ago, Week 8, Lauren scored 34 for her charming Viennese Waltz. Fast forward and, lo and behold, there it is again, the Viennese Waltz, this time disguised as an American Smooth. It would be fair to say that this is the worst case of bias that the show has seen.
Since . . . Tom Chambers lost the semi-final and won the Glitter Ball Trophy in 2008 (Rachel Stevens and Lisa Snowdon clocked up 45 tens between them, Tom got none).
Since . . . 2009 when Chris Hollins averaged 30 against Ricky Whittle’s 37, and won.
Since . . . all the Winkleman family got jobs working on the switchboard for the Beeb.
Until . . . the same benefit in kind was applied to Stacey.
In Musicals Week here was a real tragedy.
Of course Lauren’s dance was lovely. Aloysius Jackson laid on the boyish charm, they picked a song from a musical named after the Bristol Rugby team – South Pacific – and between the 45 second delay to start and a nice leg raising sequence to close it might as well have been the same routine as a cupple of weeks ago. They scored 35, her highest yet. Maybe 36 next week if they VW again?
Here’s the unlikely plot of a successful show. Bloke nicks a loaf of bread. Thrown into prison. Does 19 years. Out on parole he thinks, ‘bugger that, I’m off.’ The cop chase that follows takes us to the slums of a great city, more theft from our hero, surely not a nice bloke, this time four candles, no, not fork handles, poverty, destitution, suicide, a nation in revolution and shattered dreams. If you lived in 1832 France you’d be pretty miserable too.
So how to tart it up? Add The Greatest Showman, the girl from the Princess Diaries, Ali G and Gladiator. And get Stephen Hawking to play Marius. Boom! There are many iconic songs to pick from and the one that got the voat was the Oscar winning tear jerker ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Sort of goes without saying that, dreaming a dream. Anne Hathaway, not Shakespeare’s wife, produced the performance of her life in 2012 to win the Best Actress in a Supporting role. Who knew that she could sing or that she had been on the Type 2 Diabetes, 800 calories a day, liquid starvation diet for a few months? There is a better way.
In a long frock that hid her feet she too benefited from flagrant BBC favouritism, an American Smooth with the Waltz at its core, a dance that she also honed just three weeks ago. All I do is point out the facts but this just isn’t right, is it? The tumble turns were back just to show that she hadn’t forgotten them. When she was dragged they hollered, when she was lifted they screamed. It was like the crowd watching the wrestling in the seventies. One spectacular neck roundabout won the day at BS6. As a production it was off the planet, theatrical genius.
Les Misérables spoiler: Fantine dies.
Last week Ashley was pilloried (36) for being staccato and for not adding enough light and shade to the timing, a little odd given that she didn’t do the choreography or write the music. And the pillorying continued (38) as her Quick Step was too busy and the poor love’s left arm was too straight at times. Words like clutch and straw come to mind, one or two juddgies really trying to rain on her parade, which coincidentally was her song of choice from the musical Funny Girl. There was nothing funny about this effort. Startling. Stunning. Worthy. Pick your own words of deification, it was the best Quick Step the show has ever seen, full of content, technique, timing and delivery.
That said, another dance off means that the writing is on the wall for Arizona’s finest, already an also ran, even if she scores 120/120 in a fortnight.
What then of the Darling of Dunstable, Faye, who, for the last six weeks has gone toe to toe with Ashley, one point (230/231) and one ten (15/16) the difference, 0.2 points a miniscule variance, Ashley bagging a staggering average of 38.5. She could open the batting for England with that.
We all know that until next week, and until the Grand Final the Saturday afterwards, four tens are as rare as goat herding in Henleaze, though there are plenty in The Gully on The Downs, but Faye’s quirky Charleston, to a tune from The Sound of Music, produced just that, the second full house of the series.
They started as puppets on strings, there’s a song in there somewhere, Faye looking like Heidi, Giovanni a camp Smurf, yellow cut-off jeans, white Leeds socks pulled to the knees, a pastel pink shirt and a green cone for a hat, straight to Elstree after a night out at the Bristol Bears Club in Old Market. In the backdrop two goat puppets had a free for all dancing into oblivion, high on Ayahuasca. They were worth watching on their own.
Faye’s 40 is a clear marker but no more. Come the Grand Final the scores become irrelevant, the best is unimportant, it is purely a subjective voat and where is the money of Middle England this year? Next week the Famous Five get to dance two new dances (except Lauren and Stacey, obvs) and we will see which way the bottle spins.
And finally, the show began with a homage to Abba, the question ‘voulez-vous?’ leaving you really pondering the question . . . voulez-vous what? It creates a dream or a fantasy or two. Where is Nadiya Bychkova when you need her the most? Of course, the routine featured a song called Mama Mia which is a phrase that originated when I was a kid when we were all corralled in for tea. It was a big house, we used a bell to summon all takers at meal times. Occasionally, if you were out in the outhouses digging for coal, grinding flour or milking the chickens you were last to be seated.
‘Where’s our Dave?’ mum asked.
I blustered through the door.
‘Mam, I’m here . . .’
December 7th 2018.
P.S. There is no truth in the rumour that Tess ‘Twice’ Daly’s broken toe was caused when she leapt from the window at Travolta Towers a fortnight ago.
Check her feet out on Saturday and see if she is still wearing open-toe sandals.