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.
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.
Strictly Come Dancing past winners
Strictly Come Dancing past winners
1/12 Caroline Flack
Caroline Flack triumphed ahead of Frankie Bridge, Mark Wright and Simon Webbe to lift the 2014 Glitter Ball trophy with Pasha Kovalev.
2/12 Abbey Clancey
Model Abbey Clancy won the 2013 series with her dance partner Aljaz Skorjanec.
3/12 Louis Smith
Last year's winner was Olympic gymnastics bronze medallist Louis Smith, who took part fresh from the glory of the London games. He won Strictly with Flavia Cacace after Girls Aloud's Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen and Danni Harmer challenged him in the final.
4/12 Harry Judd
McFly drummer Harry Judd and his partner Aliona Vilani took the trophy in 2011 after seeing off competition from Jason Donavan. He had previously won a Children in Need special of Strictly, in which he beat The Saturdays' Rochelle Wiseman to the title.
5/12 Kara Tointon
EastEnders star Kara Tointon was the second actress to win Strictly in 2010, partnered with debut professional Artem Chigvintsev. She has appeared in Pygmalion in the West End with Rupert Everett.
6/12 Chris Hollins
News presenter and sportsman Chris Hollins won in 2009 with Ola Jordan to beat actor Ricky Whittle to the crown. He managed to avoid the dance-off for the entirety of his run. He presented the BBC Breakfast sports news while appearing on Strictly.
7/12 Tom Chambers
Holby City actor Tom Chambers won in 2008 with Camilla Dallerup, who was competing in her last series of the show. Model Lisa Snowdon and S Club star Rachel Stevens lost out in the final. He currently stars in the West End.
8/12 Alesha Dixon
Singer and former Strictly judge Alesha Dixon was crowned champion of the 5th series in 2007. She won with Matthew Cutler after a close final with Matt Di Angelo. She holds the record for the highest average score in Strictly history with 36.5, despite never achieving a perfect 40 points. She joined the judging panel from 2009 to 2011 and is now on Britain's Got Talent.
9/12 Mark Ramprakash
Proving that cricketers can flourish on Strictly, Mark Ramprakash followed Darren Gough's footsteps to win Strictly in 2006 with dance partner Karen Hardy. Rugby player Matt Dawson lost out to him in the final.
10/12 Darren Gough
Cricketer Darren Gough won the third series with Lilia Kopylova, defeating athlete Colin Jackson and presenter Zoe Ball. Gough never finished top of the judges' leaderboard but was still crowned champion by the public! He now co-presents a talkSPORT radio show.
11/12 Jill Halfpenny
EastEnders actress Jill Halfpenny won the second 2004 series with Darren Bennett after beating off competition from comedian Julian Clary and Olympian Denise Lewis. She still holds the highest score for a Jive in Strictly history, scoring the full 40 points from the judges. She now has a West End theatre career.
12/12 Natasha Kaplinsky
Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky was the first winner to lift the glitterball trophy with her dance partner Brendan Cole in 2004, beating EastEnders actor Christopher Parker in the final.
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 strictlycomedancinglive.com.