Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, dance review

Wembley Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

The Strictly Come Dancing live tour is a sequinned extension to panto season. It’s a fluffy, feelgood show for the Strictly faithful, reliving the big moments from the most recent series – but this year added one knockout extra dance. We hadn’t seen soap star Natalie Gumede’s jive on television, since she missed performing it through illness. It turned out to be the dance of the night.

It’s an exception for this show, which is built solidly on familiar pleasures. Craig Revel Horwood directs a glossy recreation of the BBC television format, complete with training videos, interviews, judges’ scores and an audience vote. There’s a winner every night on tour, and the contestants dutifully pretend that competition is fierce, but the real race has already been won on television.

In the live shows, everybody is playing themselves. The celebrities recreate the onscreen “journey” the loyal audience already knows, from favourite routines to familiar jokes. The judges play up to their reputations, with Horwood as the nasty judge, Len Goodman being generous and Bruno Tonioli as the flamboyant Italian. (There’s no Darcey Bussell, who has commitments elsewhere.) Their scores are “only for guidance”, a favourite bit of decoration on Strictly’s sparkly cake. Lisa Riley acts as host, jollying contestants and audience along.

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Strictly Live Tour: (From left) Deborah Meaden, Natalie Gumede, Abbey Clancy and Susannah Reid

Gumede’s jive, danced to Proud Mary, fits right into this format while giving the audience a real surprise. Danced with Artem Chigvintsev, it’s a terrific routine. After posing with a microphone like a Motown star, Gumede powers into action. With her wild mane of hair and prancing feet, she’s a fabulous mix of huge energy and glossy precision.

The fact that she’s finally getting to dance this number may give Gumede an extra push, something to prove. It certainly gives her a new, fresh-for-the-tour journey, becoming the show’s comeback queen. No wonder she won the audience text vote.

The rest of this year’s line-up make a friendly team. There’s nobody as extreme as past contestants Ann Widdicombe or Nancy Dell’Olio, but they’re all confident with the audience and their roles. Actor Mark Benton is this year’s comedy contestant, taking on the role with good humour and real warmth. Rugby player Ben Cohen is the designated beefcake, ambling through routines and obligingly taking his shirt off. Dragon’s Den personality Deborah Meaden pitches the interviews and comedy bits just right, assured and funny.

At the top end of the scoreboard, television presenter Susanna Reid glares and swaggers through her paso doble, skirts swishing. Series winner Abbey Clancy has a sunny performance style and long-limbed model looks, though her dancing can be untidy.

Craig Revel Horwood’s production is a slick, confident package, moving smoothly from film clips to performance. It has some padding along the way – but then, so does the television show. On stage, the whole show is framed by big production numbers, lit up with fireworks and dry ice. Jason Gilkison’s choreography introduces the whole cast, while giving the professional dancers a chance to show off their technique.

Tour continues until 9 February. Tour dates from