Strictly Alumni Bring the 50s Alive Again in New High-Octane Rip it Up


Various composers, Rip it Up: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, Essex, 24.9.2017. (JPr)

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Natalie Lowe, Jay McGuiness & Louis Smith

Emily Barker, Sallyrose Beardall, Charlie Bruce, Scott Caldwell, Michael Johnson & Curtis Pritchard

Musicians: Jill Marie Cooper & Oliver Darling (singers); Leo Green (MD and Saxophone), Jonny Dyke (keyboards), Ian Jennings (bass), Ed Richardson (drums) & Matt White (guitars)

Director – Gareth Walker
Choreography – Natalie Lowe & Gareth Walker
Costume Designer – Francis Campbell

By the time I heard the excellent Jill Marie Williams belt out ‘Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeelll, you make me wanna shout!’ near the end of Rip it Up I was ready to shout out loud that there cannot – and perhaps will not – be a better Strictly Come Dancing-inspired dance show than this. Though not many who packed Southend’s Cliff Pavilion were old enough to remember the fifties, most of the music is still as popular today. It resonates with our psyche some 60plus years later even if not all of the dances or fashions do. If you are thinking wellllllll (couldn’t resist that!) wasn’t ‘Shout’ a hit for Lulu in 1964, it was actually originally recorded by the Isley Brothers and released in 1959.

Primarily Rip it Up is a showcase for former band member of The Wanted Jay McGuinness and Olympic gymnast Louis Smith to bring back memories of winning Strictly’s glitterball trophy – in 2015 and 2012 respectively – and star dancer Natalie Lowe who has now left that show with a ‘heavy heart’ to pursue new projects such as this. However, the singers, musicians, and six other professional dancers contribute hugely to an ensemble triumph!

In a write-up it is impossible to do justice to such a riotous, full-on show – with its 48 energy sapping routines – which grabs you by the throat from the first attention-grabbing screech of Leo Green’s saxophone with the dancers hot footing it onto the stage to Little Richard’s ‘Rip it Up’ before segueing with faster and faster footwork through Jackie Wilson’s ‘Reet Petite’, Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Tutti Frutti’ (again Little Richard), Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’. I was exhausted after these first few minutes …yet was only sitting in my seat!

Having such an accomplished group of musicians truly playing live is where Rip it Up succeeds over most of its current competition. Their musical director, Leo Green, was described in the glossy programme as ‘legendary’ and – although I am wary of that word – so he proved as saxophonist, affable compere … and much – much – too late in the show as a wonderful singer in his own right. Vocals from Jill Marie Cooper and Oliver Darling had embraced every style of song with great accomplishment, but when Green – quite unexpectedly – launched the first encore of Ray Charles’s ‘What I Say!’ he brought the whole audience – including me! – to our feet. By the time Natalie Lowe led the community singing and dancing to Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’, Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion (the current stop on a 43-date tour) was rocking so hard it wouldn’t have taken much more and the theatre might have slid into the nearby Thames estuary!

Rip it Up is so jam-packed with dancing gems and rollicking harmonies that trying to pick a favourite duet or ensemble piece is all but impossible. All the great music, high-octane dancing and extravagantly colourful costumes means the feel-good factor for this show is off the scale. Everyone in the audience will have their own highlight.

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Natalie Lowe, Jay McGuiness (l) & Louis Smith (r) and the Rip it Up dancers

One of Sir Bruce Forsyth’s famous catchphrases on Strictly Come Dancing was ‘You’re my favourite!’ and unashamedly Natalie Lowe has always been one of mine whether on TV or in her recent stage shows with Ian Waite. She doesn’t disappoint and her energy and enthusiasm for what she is doing is incredible. It was only fitting that she revealed – in her brief onstage interview with Leo Green – she is happiest on stage and how her emotional dancing to ‘Unchained Melody’ (which became a hit for Jimmy Young) was dedicated to Sir Bruce’s memory because he always asked for her to partner him on Strictly. Lowe seems impossibly long-limbed, moves dreamily and elegantly in the slow dances and those legs are all a blur in the fast ones. For most of the show she was partnered by Curtis Pritchard who shows himself to be remarkably talented in his own right. Currently he is with Dancing with The Stars Ireland and if his name is familiar (no he is not a relation!) it is because his brother, AJ, dances currently on Strictly.

Louis Smith mentioned in his interview the 16 routines he is involved in during Rip it Up and how it is the hardest thing he has ever done. Already a medal winner on the pommel horse at three Olympic Games, he is looking ahead to the Tokyo 2020 and showed us some of the tumbling and acrobatic feats which his years of gymnastic training has taught him. He never looked out of place and positively smouldered during ‘Fever’ (made famous by Peggy Lee) alongside the female dancers.

Jay McGuiness looks as if he still doesn’t realise how good a performer he genuinely is. Jay has just been voted the greatest Strictly winner of all time by the readers of Radio Times and he is another tremendous asset to this show. He can sing very stylishly as his performance of the Bobby Darin hit ‘Beyond the Sea’ showed, and could also partner Charlie Bruce (another superb dancer) in an achingly romantic rumba.

There were two things which successfully glued the routines together during those often difficult to fill gaps as dancers catch their breath or change their costumes: firstly, Leo Green’s bonhomie, and secondly, the fascinating selection of adverts and other film material from the 1950s we saw. Green brought us anecdotes such as Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ being inspired by that same saying regularly used by John Wayne’s character, Ethan Edwards, in his famous Western The Searchers. The adverts included the infamous American one – actually from 1949 but lasting well into the 50s – celebrating how ‘More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette’! Equally unbelievable was seeing the whiplash-inducing ‘Swing Wing’ toy that those not seeing Rip it Up should Google.

Since there is only so much swinging, bopping, jiving, jitterbugging, Lindy hopping and ballroom dancing you can do in one evening before it becomes repetitive, this wonderfully talented ensemble cranks up the energy quotient during the show to a such level that whatever they are getting paid it cannot be enough. I don’t know what rechargeable batteries keep them going but I suspect they are Duracell! By the time most dance extravaganzas have packed their costumes and dance shoes away Rip it Up is still going strong …and I wouldn’t have missed a second of it.

Jim Pritchard

For more about Rip it Up click here.

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  1. Mark Williams says:

    I thought the show was extremely excellent well thought of when my wife and I watched it in Wrexham’s William Aston Hall.

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