The 60’s comes to the West End, but are these Strictly hunks bringing anything new?
It really shows the power of Strictly Come Dancing when three of the show’s winners, and one former celebrity contestant who controversially didn’t win, can headline their own West End show off the back of their stints on the BBC juggernaut.
Rip It Up – presumably named after the Little Richard song, which was actually first released in the 50’s – is a two-hour ode to the 60s, starring Jay McGuiness from The Wanted, Olympian Louis Smith MBE (the MBE is mentioned every time his name is…) McFly’s Harry Judd and Aston Merrygold from JLS.
Alone, none of these stars can probably headline a venue like the Garrick Theatre in 2019, but together – much like Roxy and Velma combining forces in Chicago – they create something bigger than the sum of their parts.
They aren’t the only star attraction though. The choice of songs they cover, paying homage to the decade of the swinging 60’s, has been perfectly selected. We’re taken through Motown, Beatle-mania, Tina Turner rock and roll by way of the Beach Boys, The Who, Hair, Burt Bacharach and more.
At times, it feels like Rip It Up is a Greatest Hits package of some of the other hit shows on at the West End. Why go and see Tina, Let It Be, Jersey Boys, Hair and Motown, when you can see all the highlights here on one stage?
And the boys sing too. Jay charms by bopping along to Sugar by The Archies, and has every woman, and me, admittedly, in the audience swooning. The Wanted star makes fans glad they came, let’s say, especially when his shirt comes off, which is more than once. And his humour oozes through everything (‘Want to see white boys singing Motown?’ he laughs, cheekily.)
Louis Smith sings also, (who knew?) and just about gets away with it. But naturally he impresses more when showing off his medal-winning gymnast skills, which he does for one heart-racing segment of the show, in which those sitting on the front row had to lean back, as he spins up a storm with his helicopter legs.
Harry doesn’t sing, but instead shows his skills in a solo drum segment – and admits that without The Beatles, there’d be no McFly (can you imagine?) His fellow bandmates Danny Jones, Dougie Poynter and Tom Fletcher all came out to support him on the press night too, as did many Strictly professionals showing their support.
The strongest vocalist of the four is, undoubtedly, Aston, who reminds everyone why JLS were as big as they were, once upon a time, by showing off his falsetto and beautiful voice to songs such as A Whiter Shade of Pale, which was particularly stunning. At times his voice sounds eerily like Michael Jackson’s, which is not a bad thing.
Despite being the only one of the four to not actually win Strictly, which caused a storm in 2017, and rightly so, Aston is actually the most talented dancer on stage of the four, also. He moves effortlessly, bends into every shape imaginable, and even shows off his signature backflip a few times.
However, the best performer on stage is not even one of the boys. Supporting them, if that’s the right word considering she sings most of the show, is The Voice’s Jill Marie Cooper, who is incredible throughout. She takes on Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield and Lulu, showcasing soul and vocal acrobatics, without breaking a sweat.
Equally, the professional dancers supporting the Strictly men are mind-blowing, particularly So You Think You Can Dance winner Charlie Bruce, who really makes you feel every movement during her ballad section slow dance with Louis.
There are laughs too, although some of them awkward, with presenter Cavin Cornwall, a West End vet, breaking up the dancing, giving the cast a chance for a breather and one of many costumer changes – which are all very cutely done – by giving a 60’s host vibe to proceedings, (although, as he quips, a black man wouldn’t really be hosting in the 60’s, so use your imagination.)
Also breaking up the action are video clips, with stars from the 60’s telling us what it was like at the time, featuring Lulu, Roger Daltrey, Tony Blackburn and Dionne Warwick. These are actually less boring than they sound. Lulu in particular maximizes every moment of camera time, as ever.
It’s easy to pigeon-hole the show as appealing to the ‘second marriage hen do’ market, and maybe that is what will sell tickets, but if you like 60’s classics, across the genres, or just an evening of good old fashioned fun, then you’ll struggle not to be entertained.
The four lads really do give it their all, and are all talented dancers, working vigorously with very demanding and difficult choreography. And the trousers, like the dance moves, are extra tight. Wink wink.
What more could you want? A fun-filled 60’s romp, and a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.
Rip It Up is showing in the West End from now until June at the Garrick Theatre.
Get your tickets here: