If you were in the audience, then you’re likely to have been a fan of Strictly, or of Harry Judd, Louis Smith and Aston Merrygold; I know the folks sitting behind me were! I must admit, then, having left my fondness for popular culture somewhere in the Nineties, my interest in coming tonight was to listen to the music of the Sixties—mainly Soul and Motown. However, Rip It Up truly delivered aesthetic appeal across the sensory spectrum, even if at times it suffered from sensory overload.
It was, in essence, dance to music, rather than dance and music. It was the essence of Strictly: a live band, costumes ranging from elegant to barely-there; and energy—lots of energy. All being ‘filmed’, but tonight in the style of ‘TCB TV’, the top-rated U.S. variety TV show of 1968, which showcased the likes of Diana Ross and Otis Redding.
The set was pared down: band, lights, and a large screen which projected an array of visuals, including interesting snippets of pre-recorded documentary revealing the musical history of the decade. Because of my own love for Blues, Soul and Motown, I was delighted to hear mention of the heavy influence of black American music on UK artists, and to hear songs by Smokey Robinson, Aretha, James Brown, and Ben E. King, to name a few.
The flip side of this was the sheer scale of the challenge the performers gave themselves trying to do justice to such legends. The songs had to be mashups, and to fit the rhythm of the dancing that was centre stage; in doing so, the feel was very much 2018, rather than 1960. The sound balance between the instruments and the vocals was occasionally a little off, and some of the vocals (e.g. Take a Little Piece of My Heart) fared better than others (e.g. Stand By Me/Be My Baby, Walk on By). Jill Marie Cooper was outstanding, and her version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door is why there should be more female covers of songs sung by men.
But dance was the focus of the show: Louis’s Olympian moves, Harry and Aston’s smoothness—all so swoonworthy (as attested to by the ladies in the front row) —were also very technically impressive. It even made us get onto our feet, and dance, and clap our hands. While the celebs shone in the foreground, the tremendous band and talented supporting cast of singers and dancers held the show aloft. No doubt they’ll be jamming out the rest of the decades until the present, and with them, no doubt, a retinue of die-hard Strictly followers will follow.
In case you missed it in Oxford, Rip It Up is transferring to the Garrick Theatre in London's West End.