Express & Star

Review: Strictly Come Dancing Live at Birmingham's Barlcaycard Arena

There's only one way to describe the opening night of Strictly Come Dancing's 2015 tour - in the words of the Strictly Scrooge, Craig Revel Horwood - it was A-MA-ZING, darling.


Let's be honest, the crowd knew that they were in for a good night as soon as host Mel Giedroyc popped up out of a giant cake - queue the array of copious Bake Off puns - and the sell-out crowd that saw Birmingham's Barlcaycard Arena packed to the rafters spoke for itself.

Every Strictly fan dreams of being able to make their way down to London's iconic Elstree Studios to see a live Strictly show first-hand, but getting your hands on such a treasure is like finding a golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar.

So that probably explains why thousands of people snapped up tickets for the live tour. Trust me, it's just as good as you want it to be (and I'm a Strictly maniac.) With a sequin-studded line up that included faces from the 2015 and 2014 series, it was worth every penny.

It ran with a similar structure to the television series. Each couple performed two dances of their choice before facing the judges. After the first round of dances were completed audience members were able to vote for their Strictly Tour 2015 champion via text message, with a percentage of the text charge going to Sport Relief.

The evening got off to a sparkly start with 2015 finalist Georgia May Foote and her Italian Stallion partner Giovanni Pernice, performing their incredible Charlston - and boy oh boy did Team Gigi bring the house down. Praised highly from judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood, who awarded them two 10s and an eight - jackpot.

Following suit was 2014 contestant Jake Wood and his American partner Jannette Manrara, who quickly got the party started with a steamy Salsa. Jake danced his way to the finals in series 12 with Janette and certainly hadn't lost his 'snake hips' reputation. This too proved to be a hit with the judges as the pair scored 27 points. Not too shabby for Mr Wood, who admitted he hadn't danced apart from busting some moves at his home on New Year's Eve.

The night was going pretty smoothly, even Craig was happy, he even pulled out his number 9 score paddle for again for Call the Midwife's Helen George. The Birmingham-born blonde bombshell and her partner Alijaz Skorjanec had the judges eating out the palm of their hands with their enchantingly beautiful Viennese Waltz, joining Team Gigi with a score of 29.

Helen wasn't the only Birmingham Strictly contestant in the building, Alison Hammond was amongst the crowd supporting her beloved Alijaz.

Everyone knew that Craig's good mood wasn't going to last all night and that became abundantly clear when he awarded television chef Ainsley Harriot four points for his rather entertaining tango. Ainsley was partnered with Karen Clifton after his original partner Natalie Lowe suffered an injury in rehearsals.

Next up was 2014 finalist Frankie Bridge and her partner Kevin Clifton. Star of girl group The Saturday's, Frankie was due to perform in the tour last year but had to pull out after discovering she was pregnant with her second child. Considering the 27-year-old only welcomed her son just over five months ago, you would never have thought it.

Herself and Kevin - who's known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to choreography - pulled out all the stops for their high energy quickstep to The Jam's A Town Called Malice. Yet Craig must have decided he'd been too kind and decided to have bit of a moan at the pair for gapping. No matter, the audience, Len and Bruno loved it!

Craig's dull mood soon picked up again though once Country File's Anita Rani and Strictly's latest piece of eye candy, Gleb Savchenko took to the floor. Poor Mel was struggling to compose herself after she came face-to-face with a topless Gleb. Needless to say they wowed the judges with their dramatic and gripping Paso Doble. They too scored 29 points and the crowd were left wondering as to whether they were ever going to see a 10 from Craig.

Well, if anyone was going to make Craig dust off us number 10 it was bound to be 2015 Strictly champion and his partner Aliona Vilani. The pair took to the stage with thunderous applause. All eyes were on the star couple as they captivated the audience with their romantic rumba. Yet even they failed to win over Craig's heart - even with the crowd chanting 'Ten, ten, ten, ten!' Craig wasn't budging.

Mel took it upon herself to ask Jay where he stashes the Strictly glitter ball trophy, turns out Jay's twin brother actually has it and keeps it in his downstairs toilet.

In between all this action was plenty of classic Strictly contact; group dances, Len mentioning his iconic pickled walnuts and teaching Mel how to Tango - what's not to love?

Quiet often it was impossible to tell the difference between who was a professional and who was a contestant. Any nerves that the celebrities had backstage had either been bottled away or completely obliterated as each one dominated the large dance floor with the style of a world-class professional.

The second half saw Georgia and Giovani kick things off with a stunning Viennese Waltz, giving them a final score of 57 - still no 10 from Craig. Jake still proved that he could and I quote 'shake his buttocks like a jackhammer' - thanks Craig. He and Janette performed their highest scoring dance of the series, a Samba to The Macarena which left them with a total score of 52 points; whist Helen and Alijaz also had a final total of 57 points following a powerful tango to James Bay's Hold Back the River.

Craig even perked back up in the second half, praising Ainsley and Karen for their rather brilliant but bonkers tango.

Then once again the competition heated up.

Frankie and Kevin wowed both the crowd and the judges with their Tango to Defying Gravity, which even saw Frankie fly up into the God's of the arena on a broom. Their final score was a respectable 56.

Anita an Gleb returned to perform movie themed American Smooth, which saw Gleb pull off a move that Len went on to call the 'rampant crab'. Their combined score was 56.

All that was left was to see what the defending champions had to offer - a lot it turned out. Jay and Aliona had the crowd shouting and stamping their feet to the point where the arena floor felt like it was going to cave in as they performed the dance of series 13 - their jive from movie week.

The question is, was it enough for Craig to finally get his duster out for that all important number 10? Would the audience be so lucky enough as to see Jay and Aliona secure that perfect score? The answer, yes. Mel was so thrilled that she ended up knocking off Jay's wig before deciding it would be a great idea to pop it on Len.

Yet it all came down to whether Jay had done enough to win over the audience and allow his brother to keep the glitter ball in his downstairs bathroom for a little longer - the audience had their say and Jay was presented with his prize once again.

The Strictly Come Dancing tour will remain at the Barclaycard Arena until Sunday before heading to Sheffield to continue it's national run.

Strictly fan or not this was a show that anyone could enjoy and the audience exited the area they were reminded to do one thing, say it with me, keep dancing.

By Becky Weaver

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