Strictly champion Pasha Kovalev’s passion for Latin dance expressed in debut musical role in La Bamba! at Grand Opera House

Pasha Kovalev, as Ricardo, in a scene from the new musical La Bamba!, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Pamela Raith

NOT to be confused with the 1987 film of the same name or Richie Valens’ teenage hit from 1958, La Bamba! is a new musical fiesta of passion, pride and Latin pop anthems.

On tour at the Grand Opera House, York, from tonight to Saturday, it stars 2014 Strictly Come Dancing champion Pasha Kovalev as Ricardo, rising star Inês Fernandez as Sofia and The Wanted’s Siva Kaneswaran as her best friend Mateo, performing to choreography by Strictly’s Graziano Di Prima and Erica Da Silva.

Written and produced by Paul Morrisey and directed by Ray Roderick, La Bamba! invites this week’s audiences to follow Fernandez’s young Los Angeles dreamer Sofia as she takes her first steps toward stardom and witnesses the power of music to unite communities.

That music will be such Latin favourites as Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca; Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie, Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida, Becky G’s Fulanito, Camilla Cabello’s Havana and J-Lo’s Let’s Get Loud.

“La Bamba! is a musical about Latin and Mexican culture, and there’s a lot of Latin dancing in the show,” says Pasha Kovalev. “That’s my speciality, so the invitation to do the show was logical – but it’s the first musical I’ve done.

“I’ve done lots of dance productions in the past, but no musicals, and that’s why it’s very exciting to have this chance to shine. It was the perfect match because it’s a musical based around Latin dance and that’s been my passion since I was a little boy growing up in Siberia.”

Pasha, 43, will be playing Ricardo, an immigrant in Los Angeles. “He’s of Mexican descent and he has a daughter, Sofia, who the show is about,” he says. “She loves music, getting that passion from her father, and essentially, it’s a coming-of-age story, where you see how she grows and matures on her way to stardom.

“La Bamba! is two hours of entertainment that takes the audience to a completely different world,” says Pasha Kovalev

“Even though La Bamba is a famous song, and there’s the movie too, there’s no connection to that. It’s more that it’s inspired by Richie Valens, loosely based on his spirit, his passion, his art, but not his story.

“It’s basically a jukebox musical, full of fun songs picked for being songs the audience will have heard thousands of times and will make them want to jump out of their seats. There’s a lot of partying going on on stage, and the best thing about the show is hearing them leaving the theatre smiling and singing and dancing.

“La Bamba! is two hours of entertainment that takes the audience to a completely different world, recharging them with a different energy and positivity.”

Pasha is delighted that Strictly’s Italian stallion, Graziano Di Prima, has brought his moves to the choreography. “He’s always been a choreographer as well as a dancer, and it’s the perfect match as his speciality is Latin dancing,” he says.

“He’s come up with amazing choreography to match the storyline and showcase the Latin flavour of the show. When we had rehearsals over an extensive period in June and July, it was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun too, creating dance routines that are energetic and fun.”

Summing up the show, Pasha says: “Besides being an educational piece, looking inside Latin American culture and the immigrant experience inside that culture, the strength of La Bamba! is that it’s a fun show that takes you out of your everyday life and gives you a reason to think about things you might not have thought about in relation to your own life. It will leave you feeling fully charged with beautiful emotions.”

As for the singing, Pasha says: Sofia and Mateo, and her mum Elena, are played by amazing singers, Ines and Siva and Stefani Ariza. Every day I can’t get enough of their voices. If you like fun dancing, and enjoy great singing, this is the show for you.”

Father and daughter in La Bamba!: Pasha Kovalev’s Ricardo with Inês Fernandez’s Sofia. Picture: Pamela Raith

Pasha, meanwhile, is enjoying dancing as much ever. “In the place where I grew up, in the far east of Siberia, dancing was very popular. My mum admired the dance world and would take me to dance competitions in the town,” he says. “I decided I wanted to be part of that world.

“It was cold, snow everywhere, in the middle of February, but once you go inside, on the dance floor it’s beautiful and light with all these beautiful couples doing the cha cha cha.

“I said to my mum, ‘take me to the place where all the beautiful girls are’, and I became the only boy to join the dancing lessons. That was the start for me, to go on to train and work in the world of dance.”

Pasha’s Strictly Come Dancing years ensued, chalking up 93 perfect tens, reaching four finals and lifting the glitter ball with the late Caroline Flack in 2014 before leaving the BBC dancefloor after eight years following the 2018 series.

“It’s time for me to find a new challenge,” he said, when announcing his decision in 2019. La Bamba! is the latest of those challenges, bringing him back to York, a city he loves.

“It’s always a lot of fun performing there,” says Pasha. “York audiences are very receptive, and in my business, we love that!”

La Bamba!, Grand Opera House, York, tonight (7/11/2023) to Saturday, 7.30pm; Wednesday and Saturday, 2.30pm. Box office: