Not one, but two Ore Odubas for the price of one in Pretty Woman The Musical. No wonder he’s full of positivity on York return

Ore Oduba as narrator and Hollywood Boulevard wheeler-dealer Happy Man in Pretty Woman The Musical, playing the Grand Opera House, York, from next Tuesday

2016 Strictly Come Dancing champ Ore Oduba was last seen on the Grand Opera House stage in fishnets as nerdy, preppy American student Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show.

A month shy of two years later, he returns to the Cumberland Street theatre in York next week in “the ultimate rom-com, live on stage”: Pretty Woman The Musical.

What’s more, audiences can look forward to Oduba at the double, playing not only hotel manager Barnard Thompson but also Happy Man on tour from Tuesday to Saturday.

“Mr Thompson exists in the movie, but what they’ve done for the musical is create this dual role, where you’re also Happy Man, something of a narrator, who’s kind of the Fagin of Hollywood Boulevard, where two worlds meet.”

Set once upon a time in the late 1980s, as a Cinderella tale for the modern age, Pretty Woman connects the worlds of Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward (played by Amber Davies) and entrepreneur Edward Lewis (Oliver Savile).

Ore Oduba in fishnets in his previous role at the Grand Opera House: Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show in March 2022. Picture: Stuart Webb

“Happy Man brings the magic to Vivian’s turnaround – and you do have to sprinkle a little magic dust on that transformation,” says Ore. “That’s the kind of romance that people really get behind. Audiences really love the human empowerment story: the villains of the piece have to leave the theatre in hooded cloaks as everyone really gets behind Vivian.”

The BBC presenter turned actor, 38, is four months into the 12-month run of the debut British tour of a musical featuring original music and lyrics by Canadian rock star and Grammy Award winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance and a book by Garry Marshall and the 1990 film’s screenwriter, J F Lawton.

Direction and choreography is by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, for whom Ore auditioned. “I was aware of the show going into the West End in 2019, where it was such a massive success, and there’s always hype when a musical goes on tour from the West End,” he says.

“The audition call came through in February last year, and it’s just crazy because the life of an actor means you’re a freelance really and you never know what will be around the corner, but to get that call come through when it did can make it quite scary.

“I’d already done a couple of auditions in front of Americans, but Jerry Mitchell is such a charismatic man, so it’s intimidating. He’s got an excellent poker face, but I made him laugh – which is not always good, but in this case it was.”

Amber Davies’s Vivian Ward, Oliver Savile’s Edward Lewis and Ore Oduba’s Barnard Thompson in the announcement poster for the tour of Pretty Woman The Musical

The musical adds another level to Pretty Woman. “I think you have to be aware, as we say at the beginning, that this is a story set in the Eighties, but if you just did the movie on stage, it wouldn’t quite work,” says Ore.

“What Jerry has done is add meat to that story, going through the rom-com we love but aspiring to be something more, then adding the incredible choreography and a wonderful new score, with some beautiful songs by Bryan Adams.

“What we didn’t know, on the very last day of rehearsals, when things get to wind down after a busy four weeks, was why the resident director was standing gingerly at the door of the rehearsal room. He looked kind of nervous, then said, ‘Bryan Adams is here’!”

What could have been “quite a relaxed day, collecting things in bags” was transformed. “It became an exciting day, performing in front of Bryan, and he loved it. That really set us up to go off into the country,” says Ore.

He embraces the challenge each week of being on tour. “What’s wonderful about touring – and I’ve been doing it for seven years, which was never planned – is how, at the start of each week, you get a brand now burst of energy from the show rolling into a new town, looking forward to the reaction you’ll get at each place,” he says.

Dance moves: 2016 Strictly champion Ore Oduba’s Happy Man

“From the production point of view, you really get into it. You start by sticking to what you rehearse, but at the same time, when you have a show that’s such a crowd pleaser, and with me playing the narrator, you do get different reactions and a different energy from the audience that we like to play with.

“Pretty Woman transcends time and culture; it’s just in our fabric, and it’s not just nostalgia. People will want to dial into that, so there are touch points, but at the end of the day, it’s an incredible new musical with great new music and a story that people love, which we bring alive every night, transporting them into a different world.

“That world may be different from today, and you may have to put today’s world aside and put your faith in the story.”

Happy Man sums up Ore’s experience on tour. “Taking on a job, it’s about positivity, especially if I’m going to be doing it for a year, where the energy pushes us forward,” he says. “I’m looking forward to 12 months of positivity!”

Pretty Woman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, February 20 to 24, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York

Nina Wadia finds the kooky in Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk pantomime at York Theatre Royal

Wanderful: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with her arty joke of an artichoke wand in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk

NINA Wadia was confused. Growing up in India and Hong Kong, pantomime was a foreign country to her.

“When I came to the UK from Honk Kong to study classical theatre at the London Theatre School in Wandsworth, I was new to this country,” recalls the EastEnders and Good Gracious Me star.

“I went for an audition for my first ever professional job in Robin Hood at Theatre Royal Stratford East, but I thought pantomime was some form of mime! I auditioned like all the other actors, and when they said, ‘have you got a song?’, I blagged it and said ‘of course’. ‘Do you dance?’. ‘Yes, I tap,’ I said, but I was thinking, ‘why do I need to do this when it’s a mime show?’, as I just didn’t know the pantomime tradition.”

Song and dance? “What kind of mime is that,” she asked. Explanation forthcoming, she was cast as Friar Tuck, and now, more than 30 years later, she will be making her York Theatre Royal tonight (8/12/2023) as the poster face of Jack And The Beanstalk, playing Fairy Sugarsnap.

In the box seating: Nina Wadia at York Theatre Royal

She is forever grateful to Theatre Royal Stratford East, in particular Philip Hedley, artistic director from 1979 to 2004, and his associate director, Jeff Teare. “It’s the most incredible theatre that opens the door for ethnic actors,” says Nina, who will turn 55 during the panto run on December 18.

“It was very hard being an ethnic actor, and if you think of pantomime, I don’t think you’d go to a brown actor in those days. I loved that it was such an open theatre to look at actors regardless of their colour and think if you have potential, they will help develop that.

“Jeff saw something in me, the kind of thing that has made my career: the kind of energy I have, but also the willingness to learn, which I still have, whereas a lot of young actors seem overly confident now.

“I really want to express that to young people coming into the business, where they can stand out at drama school and think they know it all, by I always find that by the end of playing a role I know more than when I started.”

Nina Wadia: Mother, actress, comedian, producer, presenter and charity campaigner

Nina points to her role as Zainab Masood in the BBC’s London soap opera EastEnders from 2007 to February 2013. “I never watched EastEnders before being in it,” she admits. “I signed up for six months but ended up staying on and on, and I got to knowZainab over those six and a half years – and I really liked her.

“They hired me to bring some comedy to EastEnders, and I was the first actor to win an award for best comedy performance in EastEnders. What was really interesting was I was told they wanted me to create a character like Wendy Richards’ Pauline Fowler but funny, so I watched her, and she was so grumpy that I found her funny! Anyway, I found the way to make Zainab funny was to make her very blunt.”

Nina’s gift for her comedy had marked her out from her pantomime bow as Friar Tuck, the beginning of a seven-year involvement with Theatre Royal Stratford East.  “The show was brilliant and the writer Patrick Prior was the real thing. Playing Friar Tuck, I was one of the four ‘merry men’, with a pillow at the front, a pillow at the back and a skull cap put on top of my very long hair. Very glamorous!” she says.

“I had the best actresses to work with straightaway, sharing the dressing room with all the ‘merry men’, all played by women.”

Fairy versus villain: Nina Wadia’s Fairy Sugarsnap with pantomime baddie James Mackenzie’s Luke Backinanger in Jack And The Beanstalk

She loved the pantomime humour. “I laughed so much, having grown up with British humour in Hong Kong: Blackadder, Morecambe & Wise and Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. On. On the American side, there was the stand-up of Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, so I was drawn to the combination of crazy antics and really raw, rude comedy that I wasn’t supposed to watch but I loved, especially Eddie Murphy.”

Nina’s subsequent career has embraced everything, from radio drama company regular to soap opera , BBC Asian sketch comedy in Goodness Gracious Me to 2021 Strictly Come Dancing contestant, TV roles as Aunty Noor in Citizen Khan and Mrs Hussein in Still Open All Hours to video game voiceover artist and narrator for the animated series Tweedy And Fluff on Channel 5’s Milkshake. Charity campaigner too, honoured with an OBE.

Profiling herself on social media as Mother, Actress, Producer and Presenter, Nina loves to embrace every medium, her latest addition being her online satirical political character, the Conservative councillor and constituency candidate Annie Stone. “She’s a mixture of Suella Braverman and Priti Patel: vile but believable. She’s on TikTok, Instagram and X and she now has proper followers at #VoteAnnieStone!”

From tonight, Nina will be delivering rhymes, mirth and magic as Fairy Sugarsnap in Jack And The Beanstalk. “I was expecting a silly costume. I described it to my husband [Raimond Mirza] and said they’ve dressed me as an aubergine pretending to be an artichoke,” she says. “I’ve made her more kooky than usual, given her more depth, as much as you can give her depth!”

Nina Wadia waves a wand over Jack And The Beanstalk at York Theatre Royal from today (8/12/2023) until January 7 2024. Box office: 01904 623568 or

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:

When Torben Betts had one actor in mind to play a washed-up pop star, he wrote Murder In The Dark for Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers’ troubled pop star Danny Sierra in a scene from Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

TORBEN Betts first made his mark at a North Yorkshire theatre when Alan Ayckbourn talent-spotted the fledgling playwright and gave him a residency at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 1999.

That year, the Scarborough theatre presented the premiere of his debut play, A Listening Heaven.  Now, Betts’s new thriller, the ghost story Murder In The Dark, is heading to York Theatre Royal from September 19 to 23 on Original Theatre Company’s tour, directed by Philip Franks.

“Horror films have been my guilty pleasure since I was a morbid child,” says Philip, who was at the helm of Original Theatre’s touring production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d at the Theatre Royal last October too.

“Now is the time to find out whether many years’ worth of jump scares and terrible nightmares can be put to good use. We’ll also see whether my more adult theory – that horror often puts its finger on what worries us most as a society at any given time – will also hold true.”

Betts’s setting is a modern-day New Year’s Eve, when a car crash on a lonely road brings famous but troubled singer Danny Sierra and his extended family to an isolated holiday cottage in rural England.  From the moment they arrive, a sequence of inexplicable events begins to occur…and then the lights go out!  

Susie Blake, Miss Marple in last year’s visit, will play farmer’s wife Mrs Bateman alongside 2008 Strictly Come Dancing champion, Top Hat leading man and Holby City, Waterloo Road and Father Brown star Tom Chambers as Danny, Rebecca Charles as Rebecca, Jonny Green as Jake, Owen Oakeshott as William and Laura White as Sarah. 

Tom Chambers: “One of these flattering moments,” he says, of Torben Betts writing the role of Danny Sierra expressly for him

When the Covid19 pandemic shut down his tour in Dial M For Murder overnight, Tom appeared in Original Theatre’s remotely recorded lockdown film of Torben Betts’s Apollo 13: The Dark Side Of The Moon and subsequently in Original Theatre artistic director Alastair Whatley’s online piece Into The Night.

“About a year later, out of the blue I got a text from Alastair saying he’d commissioned Torben to write a ghost story with me in mind for the lead role,” he recalls. “It was one of those flattering moments you dream of!”

Ten pages arrived, then the full draft, and now here Tom is, two weeks into the tour. “The Dark Side Of The Moon was only 50 minutes. This [rather longer] new play has been really fascinating but also extremely challenging because Torben has written it like machine gunfire, firing off in all directions, so you think ‘who’s line is it next?’!”

Working on the play in rehearsals and now in its early weeks on stage, 46-year-old Tom says: “It’s one of those pieces where, as we’ve gone along, we’ve all thought on our feet, with none of us quite sure at first what it was.

“With its dysfunctional family at odds in a psychological thriller, I knew it was an emotional piece, with all the humour in there too, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with, because it is scary, funny and emotional at the same time, and so you’re not sure how the audience will take it!

“On stage, it’s become more like a dark comedy, and it’s been really interesting listening to the audience reactions and realising they’re laughing from very early on. But there are really scary moments too and a couple of twists that we’re asking people not to give away afterwards.”

Learning his lines has found Tom thinking: “Torben is like Marmite! I sort of love him and hate him at the same time. His script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn.

Tom Chambers, seated, shares a lighthearted moment with director Philip Franks in the rehearsal room for Torben Betts’s thriller Murder In The Dark. Picture: Pamela Raith

“I haven’t talked to him about the part, though he did sit quietly in the corner at rehearsals on a few occasions, typing away, but not interfering. Torben has allowed Philip to shave, trim and manipulate the script, letting the production grow under his directorship.”

In turn, “Philip is one of the best directors I’ve worked with, always very patient” says Tom. “He’s an actor as well as a director, and so he really lets you play with it at first, and then he very carefully re-shapes it, inspiring you with his ideas. He’s like a wonderful conductor working with an orchestra, a fantastic maestro.”

Tom describes his lead role, Danny Sierra, as a “washed-up pop star from 20 years ago”. “To play his character, to be aware of his body language, I approach him as someone who’s been in the limelight, which I’ve experienced: the shiny bits, the pitfalls, the facades, the truth and reality of how jaded he is,” he says.

“I just try to make him human. Like all of us, he tries to justify the reasons things have happened in his life. He’s made mistakes, but he does have a heart, he’s not soulless, not completely selfish.”

Danny has headed to the isolated cottage for a family funeral and must communicate with his brother for the first time in years. “Everything unravels in this old farm cottage, which is like a deserted island with very few creature comforts. That initially turns the play into a comedy, but then it becomes twisted, warped, deranged and strange, so it’s very intriguing!” says Tom.

As for the ghost story…wait and see.

Original Theatre Company in Murder In The Dark, York Theatre Royal, September 19 to 23, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or Age guidance: 14+. 

“Torben’s script is very interesting, very exciting and an absolute pig to learn,” says lead actor Tom Chambers. Picture: Pamela Raith

REVIEW: Kevin Clifton’s ‘dream role’ in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical, at Grand Opera House, York ****

Kevin Clifton’s Scott Hastings and Faye Brookes’s Fran in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical plays Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: Also Leeds Grand Theatre, July 3 to 8, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or

NOT to be confused with the glitterball dazzle of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, the 2023 tour of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom nevertheless has Strictly royalty at its core, like writing running through a stick of rock.

Australian-born judge Craig Revel Horwood both directs Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s musical and reactivates his Aussie roots for the voiceover introduction, delivered with camp exaggeration and frank humour.

2018 Strictly champ Kevin Clifton is “thrilled to finally be fulfilling a lifelong ambition to play Scott Hastings”, donning the golden matador-dandy jacket for the ten-month tour.

“When I was ten years old, I first watched the movie that would become my favourite film of all time. This is my dream role,” he enthused – and boy, does it show in his every move, back leading the cast after missing a couple of shows with a foot injury.

We knew he could dance, not only from his seven seasons in Strictly, but when blazing a trail across the Grand Opera House stage in Burn The Floor. Should you have seen him in Dirty Dancing The Musical in London, or on tour as Cosmo Brown in Singin’ In The Rain, Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages or The Artillery Man in The War Of The Worlds, you will know he can sing too.

Now comes a corking Aussie accent as Kevin from Grimsby becomes Scott Hastings, the ballroom wild card from a dance family (like Clifton himself), who falls foul of the Australian Federation with his radical, rebellious moves.

The Open champion-in-waiting instead finds himself dancing with Fran (Faye Brookes, so pink and perky and perfect in her previous York visit in Legally Blonde The Musical). At the outset, Fran is handier with the cleaning regime than as a Bambi novice on the dancefloor, but she is plucky beneath the reserved, bespectacled surface, and step by step, the unlikely pair inspire each other to defy both family expectation and ballroom convention, casting specs and fear alike aside.

Set in 1990, Luhrmann’s funny yet furious, glitzy but gritty, sometimes silly and often highly camp work is a gorgeous romantic comedy, Cinderella tale and rebel with a cause story rolled into a dance drama of the kind beloved by  Bollywood. In Revel Horwood’s hands it revels in that campery, being fruitier than Drew McOnie’s 2016 British premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, putting you as much in mind of The Rocky Horror Show or Rock Of Ages.

Clifton’s Scott is on the edge, his dancing so electric, to the point where if you touched him you would receive a shock, such is his frustration with the strictures of his obsessive mother Shirley (Nikki Belsher).

A grotesque diva of a ballroom teacher with a shark’s smile, her ruthlessness has shrunk husband Doug (a rather too young-looking James McHugh on press night, understudying Mark Sangster) to taciturn timidity.

Amid the battle of Hastings, rule-breaker Scott is also determined to defy the bent judging of Barry Fife (Benjamin Harrold, understudying Gary Davis as more of a reprobate young spiv than a seedy old stickler).

Scott must follow his heart, answer to his true calling and find true love. Out of the shadows steps Coronation Street star and Dancing On Ice runner-up Brookes’s Fran in a typically terrific demonstration of her triple threat skills as singer, dancer and actor. Her duet of Beautiful Surprise with Clifton is a second-half high point.

Shirley and Barry are not their only barriers, so too are Danielle Cato’s aptly named dancer Tina Sparkle and, at first, Fran’s protective Hispanic dad, Rico (Stylianos Thomadakis, the best of the first-night understudies, again for an older-looking Jose Agudo).

From disdain to guiding light, he shows Scott how the paso doble should be danced, leading into a wonderful, pedal-to-the-floor ensemble finale to the first half. This turns into the show’s best routine, shot through with machismo but leavened by humour and ultimately glee, under the spell of Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison’s witty, swish, elegant, sleek and fun choreography.

As with fellow very Australian musical movie The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Strictly Ballroom is rampantly ripe to bear full fruit on the musical theatre stage.

It does so by bolstering the film’s hit songs, such as Time After Time, a swoon of an Hispanic take on Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps by Karen Mann’s Abuela, and the climactic Love Is In The Air, with new musical numbers by David Foster, Sia Furler, Mozzela Neff-U, Linda Thompson and Luhrmann himself.

Mark Walters, best remembered in York for his set on the tracks for Berwick Kaler’s Dick Whittington (And His Meerkat) at the National Railway Museum in 2015, excels here too, both in set design and costumes.

Beautifully lit by fellow York Theatre Royal alumnus Richard G Jones, the domed set evokes the glamour of the ballroom dancefloor, while the clever insertion of boards that pull out enables swift changes of scene to bars, homes and a dance studio.

Barry Fife’s boudoir cameos are an amusing pop-up too and a screen backdrop is put to good use in depicting Australian skies, townscapes and landscapes.

In a week shadowed by the death of Australia’s greatest comic export, Barry Humphries, whose The Man Behind The Mask tour opened at this very theatre last April, Luhrmann and Revel Horwood combine to put an Aussie smile on the face once more with razzle dazzle aplenty, aided by Clifton and Brookes, as lovable as Fred and Ginger.

Faye Brookes jumps at chance to play opposite Kevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom The Musical at Grand Opera House

Faye Brookes: Ballroom dancing for the first time in Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Picture: Danny Kaan

CORONATION Street star and Dancing On Ice finalist Faye Brookes is joining Kevin Clifton in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York, from Monday to Saturday.

The Manchester actress, 35, will be taking the lead female part of Fran opposite Strictly Come Dancing alumnus Clifton’s Scott Hastings in Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood’s production on tour until July 15.

“I’m so excited to be playing the role of Fran and making it my own. Bring it on!” says Faye, who last appeared on the York stage in the pink and perky role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical in August 2011.

“But I have been back to York since then because it’s so pretty, a great day out, wonderful cafés and restaurants, and the river.”

Actress, soap star and Dancing On Ice contestant Faye Brookes

Faye, who became a household name after joining ITV soap opera Coronation Street to play Underworld packer and waitress Kate Connor from 2015-2019, is no stranger to musical theatre.

Not only starring in Legally Blonde, but also in Shrek The Musical in the role of Princess Fiona, in a tour that visited Leeds Grand Theatre in August 2014, and in Chicago, playing housewife, nightclub dancer and murderess Roxie Hart, visiting the Leeds theatre last May.

Now she adds Strictly Ballroom’s Fran to that list. “I was doing panto at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, playing Goldilocks – with Jason Donovan as the villain [the Evil Ringmaster] – when my agent called me to say Maisie Smith was scheduled to leave the tour in March.

“How would I feel about auditioning? ‘Great!’ I said. I knew Strictly Ballroom well from seeing the film in my childhood. I fell in love with the script and when I watched the film again, I was completely in awe of the dancing and bonkers, crazy comedy that Baz Luhrmann had done.”

“Kevin has taken me under his wing. He’s an absolute pro,” says Faye Brookes, describing her rehearsal experience playing Fran to Kevin Clifton’s Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom The Musical

Based on Luhrmann’s 1992 Australian romantic comedy, Strictly Ballroom The Musical follows the rocky path of arrogant, rebellious ballroom dancer Scott Hastings (Clifton).

When he falls out with the Australian Federation over his radical dance moves, he finds himself dancing with Fran (Brookes), a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pairing gathers the courage to defy both convention and families while discovering that, to be winners, the steps do not need to be strictly ballroom.

All important to the show is the chemistry in Scott and Fran’s tentative, then blossoming relationship on and off the dance floor. “I’ve got myself into the fittest shape possible and Kevin has taken me under his wing. He’s an absolute pro,” says Faye. “He’s been wanting to do this show ever since he was ten.”

Faye began rehearsals on March 8 before joining the itinerary from March 27. “I worked with Kevin while he was on the road as I followed the tour around the country,” says Faye, who relished the task of mastering her Australian accent too.

“It’s action packed and you just have to jump on the train and ride!” says Faye Brookes, centre, of Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

“To be fair, I do love taking on any challenge and doing accents is definitely one. I’ve always loved voices, and from watching Home And Away and Australian movies, my ear has picked up on the accent.

“What else I did, when I was doing drama at Guildford [School of Acting], was we had elocution lessons with a new accent every week.”

2021 brought her another challenge in the form of the ITV celebrity contest Dancing On Ice. “I’d never had any lessons before, but it just shows what you can do if you’re so committed to it,” says Faye, who finished as the runner-up.

“I was very lucky that I had no other commitments than the ice and I took to it like a duck to water, soaking it up like a sponge. With Strictly Ballroom, there is territory that I’ve done before [musicals], but I’ve never done ballroom dancing until now, though I have had to do ‘historical’ dancing before.”

Strictly Ballroom The Musical director Craig Revel Horwood

Working with Australian-born director Craig Revel Horwood has been a thrill too. “He’s really taken the film and sought to re-create what Baz Luhrmann created in his first ever movie and put it on stage,” says Faye. “So there are moments that will remind people of that film, and for young people who aren’t familiar with it, I can say it’s action packed and you just have to jump on the train and ride!”

Combining a book by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce with a cast of more than 20, Strictly Ballroom The Musical brings to stage life such hits as Love Is In the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time with joyous verve, bolstered by songs by Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect in a show full of “scintillating singing, dazzling dancing and eye-popping costumes” under the glitterball.

“It’s a very explosive show where you go on this wonderful experience,” says Faye. “Take a leap of faith, go with your gut, and what a beautiful feeling you will have when you come out of the theatre.”

Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, April 24 to 29, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office:

Strictly’s Gorka Marquez and Karen Hauer reignite Firedance. Feel the heat at Grand Opera House, York, and Sheffield City Hall

On fire: Gorka Marquez and Karen Hauer in Firedance

STRICTLY Come Dancing stars Gorka Marquez and Karen Hauer will reignite their chemistry in Firedance at the Grand Opera House, York, on March 12 at 5pm. Yes, 5pm.

In a show full of supercharged choreography, they will be joined by sizzling dancers and mesmerising fire specialists for a dance-off inspired by movie blockbusters Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Carmen and West Side Story. 

Soundtracked by a live band, Firedance will take a journey through Latin and contemporary dance, igniting passion as Marquez and Hauer turn up the heat and hit their rhythm to Latin, rock and pop songs by Camilla Cabello, Jason Derulo, Gregory Porter, Gipsy Kings, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and more besides.

Marquez says: “Firedance is back! Karen and I are so excited to dance up a storm for you in 2023. Expect favourite moments and lots of new songs, dance, heat, fire and passion. We can’t wait to be back with our brilliant company doing what we love and hope you will join us.”

“Creating and performing this incredible show has been a career highlight,” says Karen Hauer

Hauer says: “I am so excited to be reuniting with Gorka to bring you Firedance: Reignite in 2023. Creating and performing this incredible show has been a career highlight and we are taking things to another level with original dances, new music and a lot more fire! We can’t wait to show you what we have created with this second chapter of the Firedance story.”

Originally from Bilbao, Spain, Marquez attended ballroom and Latin dance classes from the age of 11, quickly excelling and representing Spain across the globe.
He first graced BBC One’s Strictly dancefloor in 2016, partnering Alexandra Burke, Katie Piper, 2020 finalist season Maisie Smith, Katie McGlynn and 2022 finalist Helen Skelton since then.
He is a qualified personal trainer, fashion model and content creator, having worked with Facebook, Spotify and Tropicana, and has created his own range of apparel in collaboration with WIT.

“Karen and I are so excited to dance up a storm for you,” says Gorka Marquez

Born in Venezuela, Hauer grew up in New York from the age of ten. Joining Strictly in 2012, she is the show’s longest-serving professional dancer, partnering Westlife’s Nicky Byrne, the Hairy Bikers’ Dave Myers, Mark Wright, Jeremy Vine, Will Young and chef Simon Rimmer.

In 2018, she reached the quarter-finals with actor Charles Venn and went a step further in 2019, taking comedian Chris Ramsey to the semi-final. In 2020, she reached her second final when partnering Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing. Next came Greg Wise in 2021 and an all-female coupling with comedian Jayde Adams last winter.
Hauer is a certified personal trainer and launched her online at-home, equipment-free fitness programme, Hauer Power, in 2019.

Firedance: Reignite’s 2023 itinerary will take in a second Yorkshire show at Sheffield City Hall on April 1 at 7.30pm. Box office:; York,; Sheffield, 0114 256 5593 or

Karen Hauer and Gorka Marquez in Firedance: Rhythm, passion and fire

Corrie & Legally Blonde star Faye Brookes to join Kevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom The Musical at Grand Opera House in April

Kevin Clifton and Faye Brookes team up for Strictly Ballroom The Musical in York this spring

DANCING On Ice finalist and Coronation Street star Faye Brookes is to join Kevin Clifton in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 24 to 29.

The Manchester actress, 35, will play the lead female role of Fran opposite Strictly Come Dancing alumnus Clifton’s Scott Hastings in Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood’s production, co-choreographed with Strictly creative director Jason Gilkison, on tour until July 15.

Faye will be taking over from 2020 Strictly joint runner-up Maisie Smith, who leaves the ten-month tour on March 25 after being on the road since September 26 last year.

Faye is no stranger to musical theatre, having starred as Roxie Hart in Chicago, Princess Fiona in Shrek and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde The Musical, appearing in that pink and perky role at the Grand Opera House in August 2011.

She became a household name after joining ITV soap opera Coronation Street to play Underworld packer and waitress Kate Connor, from 2015-2019. Taking on “some of the biggest storylines the show has seen”, Faye won the 2017 National Television Award for Best Newcomer. In 2021, she skated all the way to the runner-up position in the 13th series of ITV’s Dancing On Ice.

“I can’t wait to work with Craig Revel Horwood, Kevin Clifton and the hugely talented cast,” says Faye Brookes

“I’m thrilled to be joining the tour of Strictly Ballroom and can’t wait to work with Craig Revel Horwood, Kevin Clifton and the hugely talented cast,” says Faye. “I’m so excited to be playing the role of Fran and making it my own. Bring it on!“

Welcoming her to the tour, Kevin Clifton says: “It’s very exciting news that Faye is joining the cast of Strictly Ballroom and I’m looking forward to singing and dancing my way across the UK and Ireland with her.“

Director Craig Revel Horwood says: “I am delighted to be directing the sensational Faye Brookes as she joins Kevin Clifton and the super-talented cast of Strictly Ballroom The Musical. I know that she’ll be nothing short of FAB-U-LOUS!”

Based on Luhrmann’s 1992 Australian romantic comedy film, Strictly Ballroom The Musical tells the beguiling story of Scott Hastings, a talented, arrogant and rebellious young ballroom dancer (played by former Strictly professional and 2018 champion Clifton).

When he falls out with the Australian Federation over his radical dance moves, he finds himself dancing with Fran (Brookes), a beginner with no moves at all. Inspired by one another, this unlikely pairing gathers the courage to defy both convention and families – and discover that, to be winners, the steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom.

Faye Brookes in Legally Blonde The Musical, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York, in 2011

Combining a book by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce with a cast of more than 20, Strictly Ballroom The Musical brings to stage life such songs as Love Is In the Air, Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps and Time After Time with joyous verve.

The tour also features new songs by Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect in a show full of “scintillating singing, dazzling dancing and eye-popping costumes”, plus heart, comedy and drama, under the glitterball.

This uplifting and courageous musical originated as a stage play that Baz Luhrmann devised with a group of classmates at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1984.

Eight years later, he made his silver-screen directorial debut with Strictly Ballroom, the first instalment of his Red Curtain Trilogy, winning three awards at the 1993 BAFTAs and receiving a 1994 Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. In April 2014, Strictly Ballroom The Musical had its world premiere at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, Australia.

Tickets for the York run can be booked at

Who you gonna call when you need a voice for a Holy Snail in a York pantomime? Strictly between us, here’s the answer

The Blue Light Theatre Company cast members in rehearsal for The Legend Of The Holy Snail

THE voice of the National Lottery draws and Strictly Come Dancing will now be the voice of the Holy Snail in a York pantomime.

“Our dame and additional scriptwriter, Steven Clark, happens to know BBC announcer Alan ‘Voice of the Balls’ Dedicoat, so he approached him – and Alan very happily agreed to be our snail’s voice!” says a delighted Perri Ann Barley, of The Blue Light Theatre Company.

“He has already recorded the script we sent him and even put his own spin on it, with a slight nod to the Lottery and Strictly. We’re obviously thrilled about this and very grateful to him for giving up his time to help us out.”

Cast members being put through their paces – but not at snail’s pace! – for The Legend Of The Holy Snail

In the wake of their 2022 murder mystery comedy thriller, A Performance To Die For, raising £1,000 for charity, Blue Light will stage The Legend Of The Holy Snail at Acomb Working Men’s Club, Front Street, York, on January 20, 25, 26 and 27 2023 at 7.30pm, complemented by a 1pm matinee on January 21.

Perri’s new and original story is directed by Craig Barley and choreographed by Devon Wells, who are joined in the cast by Steven Clark, Glen Gears, Brenda Riley, Julie Shrimpton, Simon Moore, Kevin Bowes, Jorvik Kalicinski, Richard Rogers, Nicky Moore, Linden Horwood, Chelsea Frankling, Pat Mortimer, Kristian Barley, Sam Richardson, Kalayna Barley, Kathryn Donley, Harry Martin and Tim Horwood.

“What’s it about? Ariel is celebrating her birthday and as a gift has requested to replace her mermaid’s tail with legs, so she can go to the dance with the Prince,” says Perri. “The only being who has magic powerful enough to make this happen is The Holy Snail, but does it really exist or is it just legend?

The Blue Light Theatre Company poster for January 2023’s production of The Legend Of The Holy Snail

“The Mermaids and Islanders make it their mission to find out. Unfortunately, the incorrigible and evil Captain Hook and his crew have found themselves shipwrecked on the Island and they also want to find the mystical creature. Who will get there first?”

The Blue Light Theatre Company combines York area staff from the Yorkshire Ambulance Servive – hence the company name – with performers from the York actors’ circuit in their productions. This one will be “packed with amazing music that will have you singing and dancing along”.

As usual, all proceeds will go to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and York Against Cancer. Tickets cost £10, concessions £8, children £6, from or on 07933 329654.

Another rehearsal scene for The Blue Light Theatre Company’s January pantomime

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals adds second York Barbican date, but when?

Strictly Come Dancing: The ten professionals in the tour line-up

TICKETS sold out in 12 hours for the Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals show at York Barbican on May 12 2023, prompting the addition of a second performance on May 31.

In the line-up of ten of the world’s best professional dancers from the BBC’s hit show will be Strictly pros Dianne Buswell, Vito Coppola, Carlos Gu, Karen Hauer, Neil Jones, Nikita Kuzmin, Gorka Marquez, Luba Mushtuk, Jowita Przystal and Nancy Xu.

“Don’t miss your chance to see these much-loved dancers coming together to perform in a theatrical ensemble that will simply take your breath away,” says the tour blurb. Box office: