Week 11: Top 6 Perform (Musicals Week) - 2 December 2017
Oh, look! Apparently we've reached that point in the series where we don't just go straight into the competition at the top of an episode but instead we get a piano-infused VT of the sort you might expect to crop up during Children In Need just after Marvin and Rochelle Humes tell us that while tonight's show is all about fun, we mustn't forget the very important work that the money we raise helps to do for the disadvantaged. Except here of course "the disadvantaged" are a bunch of aspiring celebrity hoofers who just really really don't want to get sent home before they've had a chance to do their showdance. This one is kind of unintentionally hilarious because someone has made the...interesting decision to have the celebs standing completely still, staring into the camera and biting their bottom lip (fair enough, sets the mood) while also having their professional partner suddenly HIGH KICK or JAZZ HANDS into the frame next to them (bit odd, makes the whole thing feel like a pisstake). Anyway, everybody feels so grateful to be here, they never expected to make it this far, they're going to keep working, and then everyone starts repeating "it's not time to go home" over and over again and it all becomes a bit like the end of a toddler's birthday party, only with less arguing over whether little Jack has picked up little Oliver's coat by mistake.
Titles! This week, of course, because it's Musicals Week, featuring an updated end card where everyone gets their own marquee billboard. You might need slightly more of a West End Wendy than I to determine exactly which shows are being referenced in all cases, but there are a couple of obvious ones - Claudia gets Wicked (bit harsh), Tess gets The Lion King, Craig and Darcey get Les Misérables, Alexandra and Gorka get Mamma Mia!, Gemma and Aljaž get what I can only assume is Singin' In The Rain because he's carrying an umbrella, Mollie and AJ I think are Rent (make your own jokes here) based on the font, and the rest...I'm not sure about. Feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments if you're so inclined!
We open with a pro number to 'Food, Glorious Food' from Oliver!, and I have to pause the show for a good three minutes because I'm laughing too much at AJ having been cast as Oliver Twist. Especially since he turned up on It Takes Two on Friday slowly purpling because he'd literally just come from having his fake tan applied for the weekend, and I'm no Dickens purist but I'm pretty sure Oliver would have been a little pastier than this. And then, just when I've got myself back under control, AJ leaps onto the table and lip-syncs to one of the Fabulous Singers falsettoing "beautiful food" and I'm off again. Well done, everyone - I've not laughed this much since Ruth and Anton stripped off in their samba. It then all takes a slightly more serious turn as it segues into 'Who Will Buy?' and all of the female pros get a little more time at the front and I appreciate for the first time how thoroughly unflattering their "Dickensian wench" costumes are (Chloe's in particular, has she upset Vicky Gill somehow?), and then we transition into 'Consider Yourself' for the final burst as the celebs make their entrance in period-appropriate attire - with Gemma boasting a mahoosive wig that looks like a cottage loaf.
After everything explodes in a giant burst of confetti, everyone rushes off backstage to get changed and I wonder just how long the poor studio audience have already been sitting there. Tess and Claudia make their entrance: Tess in a purplish-blue gown that goes down to her ankles, and Claudia in a rather odd strapless number with a line of buttons down each side and a split up to the upper thigh on each leg. Neither outfit is great but Claudia's is just so bizarre I think I'm going to have to give Tess the edge tonight. In the audience: Ed Balls and Denise Lewis, next to each other. I would quite like to have eavesdropped on their conversation. After a brief recap of what happened last week, the judges are brought in doing their best chorus stomps, and I'm pleased to inform you that Shirley's dress does in fact allow her to hit her mark on time for the end pose. We're off to a good start!
Here are our Strictly stars, then: Davood and Nadiya, as the Phantom and Christine (I assume, although I've never seen Phantom - though I have seen Love Never Dies, long story - and I always rather anticipated Christine would look rather more virginal than Nadiya does here in a red and black number split right up to wowza), Mollie and AJ as Sandy Dumbrowski/Olsen, depending on your preference, and Danny Zuko by way of a super clean-cut 50s kid, Gemma and Aljaž as Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder (Gemma still has that massive cottage-loaf wig on only now there are GIANT FEATHERS in it too), Debbie and Giovanni as Grizabella and...male companion?, Joe and Katya as the Emcee and Sally Bowles, and Alexandra and Gorka as Mary Poppins and Bert apparently, although I don't think you'd ever have guessed that from Alexandra's dress. How bizarre that she looked more like Mary Poppins in Movie Week when she was being Eliza Doolittle. [I guess they didn't want to evoke too many memories of Fern and Artem? - Rad]
First tonight are Gemma and Aljaž, who will dancing a quickstep to 'Hello, Dolly!' from Hello, Dolly!. In her VT Gemma says she loved doing her samba last week, and she had fun even if she didn't get the scores or comments she would have liked. Aljaž has planned a big Hollywood glamour number for them this week, but Gemma's struggling a bit in rehearsals to keep up with him and worries that she's going to fall on her face. Aljaž explains that they need to be swan-like with all the movement in the lower half and staying graceful up top. We see Gemma practising by herself at home and gradually coming to terms with it over the week, and hoping that she can be a swan on the dancefloor on Saturday night. Well, she's already got the feathers.
The routine opens with Gemma emerging vampishly from behind some backing dancers and leading them all in a side-by-side-by-side-by-side (etc) section. Once Gemma and Aljaž they get into hold it looks fairly good - I'm not sure Gemma's quite got the calmness up top that she was hoping for as it does all still look a little bit frantic and there's a little bit of gapping at points, but for the most part she does a good job of keeping up with Aljaž as they cover the floor. It could look a little crisper, but it looks a lot better than the rehearsal footage did, so well done to both of them for pulling it all together when it counted.
Shirley tells Gemma that she did very well with such an iconic piece of music, but she felt it needed about 20 per cent more "in the acting skills". Ouch. Dinging Gemma right in the day job there. Shirley did like the swan-like posture and the immaculate frame though, as well as the scattered chassés. Bruno says she won his attention with her Broadway diva entrance, and he thinks she held her own at the start, but she lost a bit of character when she was in hold. Craig thought it looked laboured and heavy and disagreed with Shirley on both the frame and the scattered chassés, but he loved the opening and the theatricality. Darcey calls it "a hot Dolly cheeky quickstep" (...what?) and she loved everything Gemma brought to it, but she thinks Gemma was too relaxed in it and needed to be tauter and tighter.
Gemma and Aljaž and that wig make their way up to the Clauditorium, and Claudia reminds Gemma that she hasn't opened a show since week one, back when she hated ballroom - but now she loves it. Gemma said she thought the choreography was great and she's just pleased to be here for musicals week. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Shirley 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Aljaž is clearly very disappointed with those scores and Gemma's all "don't worry, it's fine!" Heh. [6 seems pretty harsh, it was alright, and I'd have given it more than Davood, but I guess they're trying to deramp her a bit now we're heading to the end and she's never bottom twoed - Rad]
Claudia says that she needs help with the terms and conditions for Musicals Week, so she rubs Aladdin's lamp and then Russell Grant appears and *fast forwards*
Mollie and AJ are next, and I'm not suggesting that the producers want them gone or anything but this is the third time they have been sent out in the death slot. (Also Mollie and Gemma are the only two people remaining who've yet to go on last, while Davood and whoever gets it tonight will have done it twice.) Oh, and they've got a rumba this week, so good luck Mollie. In her VT Mollie says that last week was her favourite week yet, and she's still absolutely staggered that people have taken time to vote for her. Me too, actually - I genuinely like Mollie but I honestly thought she would have been gone weeks ago. They're dancing to 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' from Grease, and Mollie's finding the timing a little bit confusing because you step on the 2, 3, 4, but not the 1. This is pretty much the one piece of dance knowledge I am very secure in because Shem, my dance teacher, always threatens to cut my leg off if he catches me stepping on the 1, and I believe he would do it if necessary. Mollie says that she wanted to get AJ a present to thank him for getting her this far, and it turns out to be a scrapbook photo album, which is absolutely the most Mollie King gift I could possibly imagine. (Although most of the photos in it look like they were taken by Strictly's professional stills photographer or members of the crew [And pasted in with masking tape for some reason - Rad] so I'm not sure how much this was personally handmade by Mollie.) Mollie hopes that they'll be able to continue filling it up with many more memories to come.
Mollie begins the routine on her balcony, wearing a white shawl that immediately brings to mind Alison Hammond's iconic American Smooth but which she sadly discards. She 2-3-4s her way across to the centre as AJ appears behind her from the balcony door, and then he steps down onto the floor and Mollie leaps into his arms and he whirls her around and around and...is this not an illegal lift, then? I mean it looks lovely but I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be here. As for the rumba content itself: Mollie's core looks a little wobbly but there's some nice straight-leg action and she's emoting it well - actually, she's hamming for England - and AJ seems quite keen to keep the actual rumba steps to a minimum. So it's not much of a rumba, to be honest, but as a Musicals Week routine I rather like it, and I think it's been very shrewdly crafted by AJ to play for votes rather than points from the judges. Especially as it ends in a showmance-teasing drop that prompts Tess to yell "DID YOU ACTUALLY KISS HER ON THE LIPS I MISSED THAT" when they walk over. [It reminded me of Brendan's TASTEFUL ROMANTIC rumba - Rad]
Tess tells Mollie SHE COULD ACTUALLY BE SANDY, and Bruno says he could feel the fireworks - he was impressed by Mollie's ability to translate emotion into motion, and he saw her moving through her back into her arms for the first time. He's impressed that she's improved so much. Craig points out the massive lift that she's going to have to be penalised for, and he doesn't agree with Bruno, he thought she was dancing by numbers. But surely if those numbers are two, three and four, then everything's fine? He wanted a lot more extension in the body, but there was good hip action and lovely straight legs. Tess says there were a lot of boos in the audience (or just as plausibly, a lot of booze in the audience) and throws to Darcey, who loves Grease (*pretends to be shocked*) and thought Mollie made a great Sandy. She thought it was very sweet and romantic, but she would have liked it to be more sensual - a bit more resistance through the feet would have helped. She thought it was girly, rather than womanly, at which Tess squeaks "THEY ARE SO SWEET!" She's getting worse, isn't she? Shirley loved that they embraced the characters of Danny and Sandy, and she thought the lift was lovely but they had already started their rumba by that point so it was officially illegal - but she was very impressed with how Mollie started her rumba without AJ there. Not for the first time either, eh ladies? *winks to camera* She was very impressed by Mollie's mastering of rumba timing.
Claudia says that Mollie has been calling it the dance of doom, and she says she was really pleased that Shirley praised her timing, and then recalls putting on Grease for her grandparents with her two sisters, who were always Sandy and Rizzo which meant that Mollie had to be Danny. And now she's finally Sandy! Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Shirley 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 31. Mollie absolutely screams at Shirley's nine, and lol at that being the score after marking it down for the illegal lift. Claudia says she loves her reaction and Mollie giggles that she's so uncool. Mollie is such a ridiculous human being, I love her so much.
Joe and Katya are next with a Cabaret-themed samba. This should be interesting. He was thrilled to get two nines and two 10s last week and be top of the leaderboard. Joe says he's done a few musicals in his time, and did the first one when he was 12, at school in Glasgow. (Hmmmm at the downplaying of Joe as an actual West End leading man though.) So Joe takes Katya back to his old school, where his headshot hangs proudly on the wall as a famous alumnus, and they go to meet his teacher Margaret Layden (point of interest: I'm younger than Joe and I'm pretty sure if I went back to my old school none of my old teachers would still be there [I know none of mine are. Nor any of my old schools - Rad]), who says that Joe was a model student who loved the spotlight. They watch a video of Joe in a school play and Joe giggles at it, and then they perform for a crowd of students who go absolutely wild for them.
They're dancing to 'Money Money', which is not the best accompaniment for a samba but they do a pretty good job of making it work for them. As far as the dancing goes, it's pretty decent - the bounce action is a little hit and miss and there are a few lumpy sections, but on those occasions both Joe and Katya lean into the theming to cover it up which actually works quite well. I don't think it's a dance style that particularly suits him so they were fortunate to draw it in a theme week where they could dress it up quite well. On an entirely personal level, I tend to find Katya prone to overacting at the best of times and this routine really highlights that, which is perhaps why it's my least favourite routine of the night so far even though it's probably the most technically accomplished of the three we've seen. It's a good effort, but it just didn't click for me for some reason. [I hated it. It just didn't feel like a samba at all and coming hot off the heels of their quickstep and charleston, just too much too muchness. Worked for the theme, and would have been fine as a showdance, but not a samba by any stretch of imagination - Rad]
Craig says that he was all ready for it to fail based on the theming and the concept but it didn't - it was incredible and engaging and he loved it. Darcey thought the characterisation was wonderful and she loved how Joe managed to gel it all together. She thinks he could have been slightly more turned out in the feet but was impressed by his flexibility. Shirley thinks Joe definitely has what it takes to make the semi-finals, and says his voltas were great. Bruno calls it "divinely decadent and slightly twisted".
Claudia says that Joe was really nervous about this one, and Katya explains that Joe didn't see how the theming was going to work with this particular dance (and I suspect he wasn't alone) but they loved it. Joe says he owes everything to his drama teacher who couldn't be there (for the VT, I assume), and then the scores are in: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 37.
After Claudia's comedy interlude, it's time for Debbie and Giovanni and their American smooth. Debbie loved her Argentine tango (yasssss get it girl), and she's thrilled to be in the quarter-final. They've drawn Cats as their theme, obviously, and Debbie's finding the rehearsals a challenge because there are a lot of spins, and she needs to relinquish control and let Giovanni lead her through them. Debbie's quite worried about the elaborate lifts at her age, especially with her back problem, but she says she's going to give it everything nonetheless.
They're dancing to 'Memory' with Debbie emoting her Grizabella right from the off, and it's a Viennese waltz-based American smooth which is always my preferred variety, so this is on to a winner with me straight away. The hold sections are beautifully close and intense, and as for the lifts - well, you wouldn't know Debbie has a back problem because there's one lift where she interlocks her arms behind Giovanni's head and he spins her around and then lets go so she's just supporting herself. WOW. I don't actually think I can even be objective about this routine after that because... well, wow. [Might not have been the full Fred-n-Ginge I was hoping for - maybe their foxtrot, if they do one? - but it was amazing and so on point for the theme. I actually thought Giovanni looked really hot in the make-up, too, which is maybe a bit weird.. Also, this felt like it was destined to get the big 40 and then didn't for reasons I don't understand other than the first 40 usually goes to something weird so I guess we'll find out what next week - EDIT: Forgot Debbie's tango! Thanks for reminding me - Rad]
It goes down equally well in the room and Shirley's on her feet. Darcey says she is purring with delight and she loved the fluidity of it and how one move ran into the next. She found it so exquisite and absolutely seamless. Tess points out Darcey's use of a "super-laytive" (oh Tess) and Shirley says that she thinks it will be a memory etched in everyone's hearts for a long time - she thought the spinning left into the fleckerl was incredibly impressive with the way Debbie maintained her composure and balance. Bruno thought it was a smash hit, and he says that they took everyone with them through a story. Craig just purrs, and Giovanni meows back at him. Sheesh, get a room you two.
Claudia says that Anton told her it was amazing, and Debbie says she keeps forgetting that she's 59 and thinking she's 20 instead, and it caught up with her a little bit this week. But it was amazing choreography and she loved it. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Giovanni starts rubbing his face against Debbie's. JUST KISS ALREADY.
In the penultimate performance slot tonight we have Davood and Nadiya, and Davood's Phantom mask has been covered in sequins which does slightly spoil the presumably intended effect of gothicism. Davood says they got really lovely comments about their whole performance last week, and he's really hoping they can do something epic for Musicals Week. This week they're doing the Argentine tango, and Davood says he believes he's the first male celebrity to be doing one (well, this series, yes) and he's feeling the pressure. Davood and Nadiya head off to the West End to meet Ben Lewis and Kelly Mathieson, the current Phantom and Christine, and Ben explains that there's electricity simmering between the Phantom and Christine every time they touch. Nadiya asks Ben and Kelly if they'd like to see a sneaky preview of their "Argentinian tango", and after watching, Ben concludes that they're going to smash it. Let's see, shall we?
Davood gets lowered from the ceiling on a chandelier and then...oh dear. The minute he starts dancing it all goes a bit wrong. The thing with the Argentine tango is that it's all about intimate, deliberate, clipped moves and none of those are things that Davood is particularly good at, so the whole thing comes off a bit fluffy and broad on his part, while Nadiya appears to be dancing an entirely separate and thoroughly sex-charged routine. Davood's trying really hard and there are parts like the floor sweep where he really does do quite well, but the whole thing just doesn't suit him and it shows. [I liked the floor sweep and the bit where he did a jump and the rest... yeah. Not his finest - Rad]
Shirley tells him that she liked the character and thought the lifts were spectacular, but he had some stumbling problems and balance issues - she would've liked to see him a little more in control. Bruno thought he had a powerful and menacing presence, but it wasn't slick enough - Davood was too wobbly. Craig says he didn't feel Davood was truly leading the dance, but he loved the concept. Darcey says that Davood started off well, but as it got faster he really started to struggle with his balance.
In the Clauditorium, Davood says that he really enjoyed it, but maybe the sense of atmosphere just got the better of him and that's why he struggled. Claudia congratulates Nadiya on her engagement, which was news to me, but congratulations Nadiya! (It's also quite confusing because she congratulates "you" rather than "Nadiya", and considering that can be both singular and plural, it did briefly make me wonder if Nadiya was engaged to Davood, who is already married.) Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Shirley 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 29.
Tess is in the audience sitting with Denise and Ed, and Ed says that he couldn't get anywhere near the quality that we've seen tonight. Yes, we know. Closing the show are Alexandra and Gorka. Alexandra says she loved the rumba last week but she thought the nerves got the better of her, and she wasn't surprised to be in the dance-off. In training, we see Gorka struggling to say "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (HA HA THE SPANISH MAN CAN'T SAY A LONG NONSENSE WORD, WHAT LARKS) and there's a shot from below of his junk bouncing around inside his joggers. Hey, I'm just here to report the facts. Alexandra says she's going to channel her inner Mary Poppins and clicks her fingers, at which point Gorka gets super-meta and tells her that she can't because that's Debbie McGee's thing, and Alex is all "Mary Poppins done it first, babes". [I actually loved this little joke, sorry world - Rad] For some reason, this transports them to Alex's kitchen where she cooks Gorka spaghetti bolognese to say thank you. I believe that is the sound of the bottom of the Big Ideas Barrel being scraped. Next week: Gemma thanks Aljaž for his hard work by defrosting his and Janette's freezer.
They're dancing a charleston to that word Gorka can't say [I really, really wish they hadn't done the same song that Fern and Artem did, even if they went faster and with a slightly different section of the song - Rad], and it starts with a solo section that Alexandra doesn't actually dance that well, but she comes alive a bit more when Gorka and the backing dancers join in with her. (Speaking of the backing dancers: there's one bit where Chloe momentarily forgets the routine in the back of the shot, oops.) It's a fun routine, but it doesn't quite feel like the showstopper it was intended to be somehow, and I'm not sure why - Alexandra's swivel isn't quite there, but I don't think that in itself is the problem. It just lacks atmosphere, which is odd considering that everyone involved is playing it right to the back of the room. I've stanned for Alexandra since the beginning, but this is the first routine of hers that I can't honestly say I liked that much. Which brings us back to the big question of 2017: what the hell is wrong with the charlestons this year? [What is wrong with so many of the dances this year, more to the point? Cha-cha, samba, salsa, foxtrot... I don't think charleston comes off quite as badly in comparison, just that most of the charlestons have been a little off in terms of music or theme - Rad]
Bruno leaps to his feet and starts yelling, and I quote, "SUPERFALIFRAGILISTIC-SUPERALEXANDRA". Indeed. He says it was practically perfect in every possible way. Craig says that Alexandra had better swivel than Gorka in that (she bloody didn't). Darcey gets going and says you couldn't tell who was the pro in this partnership and...given that most of the criticism of Alexandra that I've seen is that she's a weapons grade ringer whose very participation on this show undermines the fairness of the whole concept, do they honestly think this is helpful? She loved the level of detail and thought it was fabulous. Shirley describes it as "stratospheric".
In the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds Alexandra that she wanted to do this dance more than any other, and Alexandra says it was so much fun. Gorka's all "yep, she's better than me" and Claudia consoles him that he is Very Good At Dancing. Alexandra says it was such an honour to close the show at this stage, hashtag humble and blessed. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.
1=. Debbie & Giovanni - 39
1=. Alexandra and Gorka - 39
3. Joe & Katya - 37
4. Mollie & AJ - 31
5=. Gemma & Aljaz - 29
5=. Davood & Nadiya - 29
Oooooh boy. Two ties on the leaderboard when there are only six couples competing? I think we're about to have another frontrunner in the dance-off... [All my votes went to Debbie and Alex for this reason - Rad]
The lines open, Claudia attempts to read the terms and conditions but it all rather goes to pot when everyone starts singing 'Oom Pah Pah' behind her and Gorka whisks her up into his arms. Quick recap: Gemma being slightly more Hello Kitty than Hello, Dolly!, Mollie living her best life in her rumba, Joe's samba to Cabaret that worked better than it should have even if I still didn't like it that much, Debbie BEING LIFTED WITH NO HANDS, Davood's Argentine tango being more of an Argentine Fanta, and Gorka definitely doing better swivel than Alexandra whatever Craig says.
In the results show: someone's going home, there's a Dreamgirls routine, and there's a performance from Beverley Knight, Amber Riley and Cassidy Janson. Sounds fun! Apart from the "someone's going home bit", obviously.