Review by: Sophie Thomas
Strictly Come Dancing fans rejoiced at the news that four male celebrities who have competed for the Glitterball trophy would be teaming up to perform a celebration of swinging sixties music and dance in the West End. Allowing audiences to escape the real world for a few hours, Rip It Up is an energetic display that pays tribute to the era, with the leading lads demonstrating their collective dancing prowess. Yet its simplicity was often its downfall, with dance scenes interspersed with pre-recorded tapes and pre-planned ‘banter’ taking away from the free-flowing vibes of the swinging sixties.
The premise of the show is easy to follow: opening with Cavin Cornwall as the show’s presenter (channelling Hairspray’s Corny Collins), audiences are transported on a groovy trip through the 1960s, as the cast dance to some of the greatest songs of the decade: we hear the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” all expertly performed under Barnaby Dickinson’s musical direction.
The show is foolproof: offering the crowd a little bit of everything with each scene taking place in a different ‘60s setting means nobody will be left disappointed. However, with dance routines only linked by videos (with one too many appearances by Lulu met by audible groans), the swinging stylisation could have utilised between routines to ensure that the stage was never dark, rather than blackouts to indicate new scene.
Scenes were held together by Jill Marie Cooper as the lead vocalist, who is the undeniable star of the show. Belting out a range of the era’s biggest classics and getting the audience clapping along, Cooper lifted the show’s spirit, especially in the rousing finale performance of “Shout”, a Lulu classic leaving the sixties songstress to have the final say.
Under Gareth Walker’s directorial vision, every dance section was choreographed to accurately reflect the decade, throwing in quickstep moves, pasodoble steps and plenty of jive kicks in a nod to the Strictly boys in their respective series. There was no forgetting that the quartet all found their dancing fame through the BBC series, with evidently rehearsed interviews as the boys talked about how they’ve improved on their dancing after their time in the competition, disjointed and worlds apart from the show’s 60s celebration.
While competing on separate seasons, the foursome’s camaraderie is unparalleled. Harry Judd, Louis Smith, Jay McGuiness and Aston Merrygold each have their chance to shine at the Garrick in musical, dance and gymnastic form. Highlights included Smith performing on a pommel horse and Merrygold bringing his 21st-century pop vocals to the music of a decade gone by, with Judd and McGuiness dancing front and centre on numerous occasions much to the audience’s delight.
With audiences permitted to take photos and videos throughout the performance – which did mean one audience member beside me filmed the entire two-and-a-half hours on her phone – fans far and wide are able to share their Rip It Up experience. There’s no denying the show’s feel-good factor and the announcement that there’ll be a 70s show of a similar fashion excited everyone in the auditorium. But the repetition of dance followed by speaking then a video only left a tear in the decade, rather than a satisfying rip.
Rip It Up is at the Garrick Theatre until 2nd June.
Now On Stage 2019