Week 11: Musicals Week aka Quarter-final aka Top 5 perform
Saturday 3 December 2016
Last week! The wheels finally came off the Ed Balls wagon following a dance off in which Judge Rinder was saved by virtue of not being Ed. Tonight! The shortest show of this series! Hooray!
Being the shortest show (only an hour!) doesn’t mean it’s devoid of filler, though. We open with a pointless VT about how hard everyone is working and how much they want to get through this week-which is officially also the quarter-finals.
Cue credits with super special musicals title card featuring Claudia (W) as Elphaba from Wicked; Tess as a lion from the Lion King (I’m not sure why, given that Claudia is actually dancing to a song from the Lion King this week, but such are the ways of Strictly); and the judges as ‘Les Judges’-in a poster style that doesn’t look very Les Miserables, possibly because of some copyright issues? The posters for the contestants are little harder to make out, but I think Judge Rinder and Oksana are Mary Poppins; Danny and Oti are maybe Rent; Louise and Kevin Mamma Mia?; Claudia and AJ Dirty Dancing?? Ore and Joanne - no idea, something with a yellow background. I think they would have done better using the actual musicals the stars were dancing to, but maybe I’m expecting too much logic from the show. Always nice to have a change of title card though.
Now, although I am perfectly on-board with a big old musical opening number, I am less signed up for a big old musical opening number that begins with an Anton Du Beke singing solo. Bless him, he doesn’t have necessarily the worst voice I’ve ever heard, but nor is he a singer by any stretch of the imagination. [He made me miss those times Bruce used to sing. Well, almost. - Steve] The opening ‘song’ is a mash-up of something made up for the show (and very tuneless) and lines from different musicals and the dancing, such as it is, is a mash up of uncoordinated steps with everyone in costumes from a variety of shows, including Cats, Grease, Mary Poppins, Les Mis, Wicked (Katya being this week’s recipient of the green make-up) and many things I don’t really recognise. Bruno and Craig are dressed as a couple of pearly kings for a line from ‘The Lambeth walk’, which is an unexpected turn of events. Darcey is also about, half-heartedly moving around at one point, then spending the rest of the routine sitting on a chair [no doubt as a heartfelt tribute to Denise Van Outen's time in the West End - Steve]. Len also appears towards the end dressed like the Phantom of the Opera. We have some super speedy costume changes-including Bruno and Craig reappearing dressed as stars of Singing in the Rain, then a bunch of children come on, because why not, when the rest of it is a kitchen sink? I love me a big, glitzy opener, but that was a bloody shambles. Still, it can only get better from here, can’t it? I blame Will Young - given we have another big number coming later in the show, this mess was probably filler to make up for not having six dances.
Claudia and Tess enter - just walking on this time, no grand staircase entrance for them: Daly Dresswatch: at this point, she’s just trolling us with ever more ridiculous asymmetrical necklines. This one has the effect of making it look like the straps of her dresser both to one side of her neck, as if she put the outfit on in a hurry without fitting it properly. Who knows, maybe she did. What Winkleman’s wearing: a black lacy sundress.
As is often the case when we’ve had a big opening number, the judges’ entrances seem superfluous and Darcey is as uncomfortable at affecting dancing on as ever.
Our contestants enter: Louise and Kevin; Judge Rinder and Oksana; Claudia and AJ - winners of this week’s worst costume, hair and make-up, not only are they made to look like rejects from Cats (yes, I know the Lion King is probably not much different to Cats in its make-up stylings, but I haven’t actually seen the Lion King musical), they are wearing the world’s ugliest shade of tan-orange and AJ’s shirt is buttoned with only one button-and not the button that matches the hole, so it looks incredibly skew whiff [also AJ looks like a living Snapchat filter - Steve]; Ore and Joanne; Oti and Danny.
Tonight’s opening couple is Ore and Joanne. They are dancing to ‘Pure Imagination’ from the film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory-whoops, sorry, I mean the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Movie week and musicals week are essentially interchangeable at this point, aren’t they? To help with their dance, they go to visit the set of the musical and meet Jonathan Slinger, who is playing Willy Wonka. I don’t know how comfortable I am about product placement for musicals that comes in any shape or form other than an Andrew Lloyd Webber talent show, but I suppose these VT promos have more logic to them than all the shilling for musicals that aren’t even featured tonight that was going on It Takes Two this week.
It seems a little unfair that Ore and Joanne have had to put up with what is, pretty much, the same theme for two of the dances this series, although they at least both look better than they did on Halloween. Joanne is wearing a purple ballgown with a slightly weird hairstyle, shaped like Delenn from Babylon 5’s head-piece, but backwards. Ore is dressed in a multicoloured Willy Wonka suit, but without a fright wig or scary make-up. The set is quite nice the factory gates, with some oversized flowers, lollipops and candy canes. Remember how their Viennese waltz was set to music that would have suited a foxtrot better? Well, here is the reverse problem. I hate it when the show fucks about with signatures and it can’t be great for the dancers, musicians or singers, either. The blind dart-throwing song choice monkeys really need refreshing before the next series. They are supported by prop dancers dressed as flowers and sweets, who, thankfully, stay in the background throughout most of the dance, although they start to obscure the stars towards the end. The dance itself is fine, given the awkward fit of the music, it seems quite pleasant and there don’t seem to be many problems, but it’s also somewhat unambitious and a little dull. Still, that’s the average Strictly foxtrot for you. The closing shot, of them going through the factory gates, as golden tickets flutter down like they’re in the crystal dome (or X Factor final) is rather lovely.
Len asks ‘Who can kick off the show in style? The candy man can’ (groan). He calls it smooth, beautiful and elegant. He says there were a couple of wobbly moments, though, and, hilariously, does his grimacing and holding his hands up thing when he expects to get boos and none come. Bruno says he was expecting ‘wacky Willy Wonka’ but instead got ‘Willy Wonder’ [filth - Steve] and that it was a classic, traditional foxtrot. Craig points out there were a few errors in the footwork, but it was elegant and full of class. Darcey says he was ‘gliding with style’ and she feels very comfortable watching him, especially in ballroom and she liked his suave, cheeky and mystical character.
In the Clauditorium, Ore says that Gene Wilder in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ was his favourite performance in his favourite film. I call shenanigans, Ore. Gene Wilder wasn’t even in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (unless he had a cameo that I missed somewhere). We also get our obligatory fist shake at serial killer 2016 for taking Gene Wilder from us. It does feel like every week this series has involved a tribute to one of our many celebrity fallen this year, doesn’t it? Scores: nine, nine, nine, nine for a total of 36.
The show has clearly run out of random turns to bring on to do the terms and conditions at this stage, so instead, we have Brendan in a Technicolor dream coat singing them at us to the tune of ‘Any Dream Will Do’. I’d say his voice is maybe marginally better than Anton’s? It’s also slightly odd that the terms and conditions end by telling us that the Strictly website is where you can find the terms and conditions.
Judge Rinder and Oksana are next. Their VT reminds us that the RindyRumba wasn’t up to much and, to make matters worse, in ‘Musicals Week’, a theme that you’d expect would suit him down to the ground, he’s been given a song that isn’t even from a musical, ‘Oh What a Night’. (Jukebox musicals decidedly DO NOT COUNT, even if the unimpressed-looking cast of Jersey Boys turn up in a training VT I’m sorry).
Anyway, he’s bedecked in a bright Father Christmas/Coca-Cola red suit three weeks too soon (with Oksana as Mrs Claus, albeit more in the Janet McTeer-M&S mode of Mrs Clauses) and this is a hard colour for anyone to pull off, let alone anyone with the orange shade of fake-tan he’s wearing. The storyline is that he’s one of the Jersey Boys/Four Seasons but leaves the group to go and dance with sound mixer Oksana. At this point, his red jacket is lost for most of the samba, thankfully, buy the ill-fitting trousers remain. For fans of Rinderface, this is a real treat, as not only is he gurning like a good’un, he’s also mouthing something unintelligible throughout - he doesn’t seem to be either counting or singing along with the song, so maybe it’s some of that weird training room babble everyone seems to have going this series. The dancing is full of hip-shaking, clumpy-legged, limp-wristed (I’m not using that as an insult, just a description), dad-dancing, joyous shimmering, come-hither gestures that make it almost a full-on komedy kontestant routine. I guess the show or Rinder/Oksana have decided to give up on the mid-series narrative of him being a proper dancer now Ed Balls has gone. There’s one point where the other Jersey Boys (Neil and two other dancers), also in searingly-bright red, come and join Oksana and Judge Rinder and the lighting glares red as well that actually hurts my eyes to look at. What a sight (badumtish).
Bruno sings ‘walks like a man, dance like a gnat/nut/knot (??)’. Bruno says there was a moment where it looked like he’d stepped on a live-wire and it was flat-footed but fun. Craig echoes the flat-footed criticism but says it had fantastic energy and his bottom was bouncing for Brazil. Judge Rinder says it must have hurt him to say something kind and Craig sasses back ‘wait till you see my mark’. [Didn't we have this exact exchange a couple of weeks ago? Come on, guys, try harder. - Steve] Darcey praises him for his individual style and being the life and soul of the party. Len says it was summer (not in those outfits it wasn’t, unless we’re talking Australian summer) and a lot of fun, and he’d like to see it again – though he qualifies ‘not in the dance-off’. Come off it, as if they’re not going to be bottom of the judges’ leaderboard tonight. These critiques feel like end of the road stuff and all Judge Rinder says in the Clauditorium is his usual fallen in love with dance, wonderful teacher schtick. I like him, but this is all well and truly done, isn’t it? Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31.
Coming up! Louise giving the world’s least enthusiastic ‘yee-ha’. She’s never going to reach Kevin’s level of, well, Kevin-ness, is she?
Claudia’s comedy link-time – exactly the same gag as with Ed Balls on a piano in BLACKPOOL, except with a lion. It’s musicals week, show, you could surely have pulled some sort of gag out of the bag.
Louise and Kevin now. Their dance is cowgirl themed, so he takes her to some sort of Wild-West film set? Badly recreated theme park? Anyway, Kevin wears a comedy ginger moustache, pulls a bad accent and gets Louise to try and play cowboys while she rolls her eyes the whole time. In other words, a standard Kevin and Louise VT, albeit cheaper than sending them to Paris.
They are dancing to ‘The Deadwood Stage’ from Calamity Jane, in full on wild-west gear. It’s allegedly a quickstep, but it has about as much quickstep content as Will’s Bollywood had salsa content or Ed’s Amarillo had American Smooth content. In a way, that’s not bad, because the non-quickstep bits are a really fun and energetic hoe-down, with nice use of the backing dancers – it does feel like you’re watching a number from a musical. However, that’s also clearly where the rehearsal energy has gone, because the actual quickstep sections aren’t very good – the footwork’s a bit awkward and Louise looks uncomfortable. I am guessing we can blame this on Kevin getting carried away, although maybe it’s just that Louise was struggling with technique? A weak quickstep especially stands out this series as there’ve been some great quicksteps, often from underdog dancers whose other routines have been lacking. As character/theme-led quicksteps go, I much preferred Lesley and Anton’s – the overall quality of dancing might not have been as strong, but it felt like it blended the musical/cinema routine with actual quickstep content more effectively.
Craig loved the routine and thought the ideas in there were fantastic, blending lots of other genres and that the timing and characterisation were brilliant. WHAT DID YOU SAY TO GREG AFTER HIS RUMBA, CRAIG? [NEVA 4GET - Steve] Darcey says she became Calamity and was clean and light in the routine, though she seemed to enjoy the line dancing more than the quickstep – although she’s very assured when she performs. Len says she could go on the West End stage. Yes it did rather look like an audition for that. He says there was more musical content than actual… (and then shuts up for getting booed). Ugh, I agree with Len. Bruno loved the story, the musical style and the variety of genres. I mean, I did as well, but it was supposed to be a quickstep.
Scores: 9 (BULLSHIT CRAIG), 9, 9, 10 (Oh, Bruno) for a total of 37.
AJ and Claudia now and if this VT is more shilling for 10s I will refuse to recap the thing. They go to London zoo like good children, and talk to one of the staff about lions. He says they’re confident and you need to let the men lead. Claudia adds ‘seeing a lion’ to the things she’s done for the first time on Strictly.
They’re dancing to ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’, aka Mark and Iveta’s samba music, which makes me sad, because I loved that routine, it was so sweet and now I really miss Iveta L. Instead of doing a samba, they have a salsa, and it opens with them peeking out from some grass, which is cute. Claudia’s hair has been bouffed up with crazy extensions and frizz and, coupled with the animal make-up, she’s pretty unrecognisable. However, this actually works for her as she seems to have lost some of her inhibitions. Hot on the heels of Danny last week, it’s another full-on, letting-go Latin. There are lots of spectacular lifts, a lot of energy and wiggling and it’s pretty joyous – which I haven’t often felt in Claudia’s dances. It’s a bit more samba than salsa in places, perhaps, with a clumsy ending as they struggle to get on top of a big rock prop for their final lift, but a really enjoyable dance nonetheless.
Darcey praises the tricks, the lifts and the isolations and says her characterisation has improved but there was still more ‘grrr’ she could have put in. Len says she captured the flavour of both the Lion King and salsa – he loved the hip action and the lifts and tricks, although noticed the mistake. Bruno says she’s like a kitten that roared and says he’s going to ignore the mistake because it was probably AJ’s fault. [Bruno REACHING to justify that 10 he is obliged to give this after they spent the whole week building up to it <3 - Steve] Craig says she is still spotting the floor in the turns and some of the dismounts were a little ugly, but her body isolations were compact and clean and the lifts were extraordinary.
In the Clauditorium: aww, isn’t Claudia (F) sweet? Yawn. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 for a total of 37 and everyone shouting ‘Hakuna Matata’. Me too, now I no longer have to hear whining about why Claudia hasn’t had any 10s yet, even if it probably didn’t deserve one. [Same. It didn't feel like a 10 to me, but if it means that godforsaken storyline is over, never to be spoken of again, then I'm not going to dispute it. - Steve]
The final couple of the night are Danny and Oti, who don’t seem to have had the pimp slot for a while, despite usually having the standout routine of the week. They’re dancing to a song from Dreamgirls, which I think is the only ‘musical’ tonight to have originated on stage (except the thing that isn’t a real musical). They go to meet Amber Riley (and two unnamed Dreamgirls cast members) because she won Dancing With the Stars. Her advice is ‘good luck and have fun’. She better be bringing more to the table on that Gary Barlow thing she’s doing.
They’re dancing the… tango (oh dear… although I think musicals week also played host to Frankie and Kevin’s unlikely tango triumph to ‘Defying Gravity’) to ‘One Night Only’ and Oti is Diana Ross/Beyonce/Deena, all blue-frocked and sparkly with a huge red-brown curly wig; whilst Danny’s in the sparkliest blue jacket you ever did see. The routine is dramatic (save Danny inexplicably grinning in places) and crazy fast, and it starts quite well, including an excellent bit with the backing dancers where the two women dance in a line behind Oti, all hands on shoulders, and the men likewise with Danny. Then they break apart and Danny and the male dancers do some disco moves and when they get back in hold, the thing falls to pieces a bit and the legwork goes astray. Oops. Great song, though. [On a night of misfires, I thought this was the strongest performance. Certainly better than a tango to 'One Night Only' had any right to be. - Steve]
Len says he loved the promenade section in the line with the backing dancers but Danny’s footwork went wrong a bit. Bruno says it was a star turn and he took it as a leading man, with every bit of the performance under control. Bruno really hasn’t installed his critical faculty chip tonight, has he? Craig says he needs to sort his heel leads out or he’ll never get a 10 but he loved it and Danny’s an incredible dancer. Darcey says she loved the intensity in his eyes and she was so absorbed on his top line she didn’t even see his feet. YOUR JUDGES, EVERYONE.
In the Clauditorium, Danny praises Oti’s choreography and ‘the backing… extra pros’ (bless). Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 for a breaking-the-leaderboard-ties total of 38 and Danny says he wasn’t expecting any 10s for that routine. Yeah, me neither, having seen it.
Danny and Oti 38
Louise and Kevin 37
Claudia and AJ 37
Ore and Joanne 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana 31
I suspect Judge Rinder and Oksana won’t be able to avoid the chop tomorrow, but anyone else, except maybe Danny, could probably join them down there on those marks. Although this was a pretty enjoyable show, everyone seems overmarked tonight and technically it was a mess. Fun definitely seemed to eclipse technique in most of these routines, though presumably they feel they have to keep scores high at a quarter-final.
Normally that’s where we’d leave things, but we’re only 52 minutes in, so we have time to fill – with another group dance!
Fortunately, the judges and celebs aren't involved this time. It's a fun, energetic, dramatic West Side Story routine with Gorka, Pasha and Giovanni playing Sharks and Brendan, Aljaž and Neil (bless him, but LOL) playing Jets. [Pasha trying to look stern and menacing is so adorable. - Steve] It's all jumpy with lots of bouncing off the metrodeck and uber-homoeroticism. Them there's a romantic moment where Aljaž plays Tony and Janette Maria, before Karen, Natalie, Chloe and Katya join proceedings for a group romp through 'America' and it ends. Maybe needed more storyelling, but otherwise, that was fun and a lot better than the opening shambles.
Tomorrow night! Someone leaves, but will it be Judge Rinder, or a SHOCK! BOOT!? Also: Elaine Paige. Doing Evita for some reason.