Strictly Ballroom The Musical - London

The uplifting story that inspired the world to dance arrives on stage.

London Star Zizi Strallen on Kicking Up Her Heels in Strictly Ballroom, Giving Away Her Eyelashes & More

London Star Zizi Strallen on Kicking Up Her Heels in Strictly Ballroom, Giving Away Her Eyelashes & More
Zizi Strallen and the cast of "Strictly Ballroom"
(Photo: Jay Brooks)

About the Show

Strictly Ballroom is fondly remembered as a 1992 Baz Luhrmann film and it is now coming to the West End courtesy of the Olivier Award-winning director/choreographer Drew McOnie. The cast is headed by pop star Will Young alongside Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen as the dance-mad lovers Scott and Fran. caught up with the musical's fast-rising leading lady as the production geared up for previews starting March 29 at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Coming from a showbiz family of West End and Broadway headliners [her sisters, Summer and Scarlett, are both performers], do you feel as if this is your big break?
I sort of felt like that when I played Mary Poppins and got to go to [producer] Cameron Mackintosh's house and was given the part. But that was on tour and this is my first West End leading role, so obviously this does come with a bigger connotation.

This show had its U.K. premiere in Leeds, in Yorkshire, late in 2016; how does this production compare to that one?
Drew [McOnie] said the other day that he thinks nothing—absolutely nothing—has been repeated from Leeds. This is a brand-new show: it's got the same story and the same name, but the script, music, choreography, scenes—everything else has changed.

What is your take on the character of Fran?
She's just an excellent character to play: she's an Australian girl of Spanish descent, so her family are Spanish and she's a bit of an outsider. She's not very confident and wears glasses and has bad skin and bad hair but then has a kind of ugly duckling-into-swan transformation. She has this leap of faith, leap of confidence, and grows from there.

Have you updated the story to the present day?
We're kind of non-specific about when it is set except that it is the mid-1980s, and all the music in the show is hits from that period, which all go with the story. Will Young sounds incredible singing them.

So, you're in a musical where you don't sing?
That's right: Jonny's and my characters are dancers, so we dance when our characters dance. I think I'll get to a point in the run where I'll start to miss singing, but at the moment I do feel a little bit of relief that I don't have to wake up in the morning and go, "Do I have a voice today?" At the same time, there's so much movement that's it more like I'm waking up and going, "Can I actually walk today? Has my foot fallen off?" [Laughs.]

How are you finding the Australian accent?
Well, my Bert when I played Mary Poppins was Matt Lee, who's from Australia, so I have spent the last few years with an Australian every day, and I grew up watching [Australian TV soap opera] Home and Away, so I have sort of taken to the accent very naturally. I think it adds a dryness to the humor; there's a dry edge to the script which is quite fun to play with.

How does it feel coming to this West End gig directly from the National's sellout revival of Follies, playing Young Phyllis alongside Janie Dee, who has been nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance?
It was such an incredible experience to be a part of that show—not only to be in it but to be involved in the whole experience given how many people loved it. [Follies] was everything you come into this business for and I do miss that feeling, but I think it's going to be a similar feeling with Strictly Ballroom.

Prior to Follies, had you ever thought of yourself as a young version of Janie Dee?
You know what, I'd never really been that aware of Janie before, but we did meet a few years ago when I was at the Leicester Curve for an anniversary gala and I was singing Maria [from West Side Story], and she was doing Hello, Dolly! She didn't have any false eyelashes, so I took mine off and gave them to her and said, "You're much more important than me: have my lashes!"

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
She looked at me when we met on Follies and said, "You're the girl that gave me your lashes!" I'd like to think that in 30 years I could come back and play Phyllis: she's such an incredible female character—just amazing.

What was it like meeting Stephen Sondheim?
I first met him when he came to the last dress rehearsal of Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory [in 2012] and he was so emotional; he loved it so much. I remember seeing him at the theater crying at the top of the stairs he was so happy, and then I obviously met him again when he came over for technical rehearsals on Follies and for the first preview. He's just an absolute genius, he really is, but everybody knows that.

And what about your own career: was it preordained that you would follow in the footsteps of older sisters Summer, now starring on the West End in Young Frankenstein, or Scarlett, recently seen at the Menier in She Loves Me and about to appear on Broadway in Travesties?
I think it all sort of happened when I was about 11. I was at this quite academic sort of prep school where I was being groomed to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever and my dad was like, "Yes, go and do that, please, and have a stable life!"

So, what happened?
I wasn't the most attractive child and ended up being badly bullied so I begged my parents to let me change schools, and I ended up with a grant to go to Arts Educational, where my two elder sisters had gone. As soon as I got there, I knew [showbiz] was for me.

Were your sisters on board when you began your career?
My first professional job out of college [in 2008] was The Music Man at Chichester, with Scarlett as Marian. That was such a lovely way into the industry for me: I was 17 but got to live and work with my sister in Chichester. Meanwhile, Summer and I are hoping to do an evening of cabaret this summer in London at Brasserie Zedel—which should be easy since I'm not singing in Strictly Ballroom!

Isn't there a still-younger Strallen sister, Saskia?
Yes, and she's a pretty incredible actress. Her ideal dream is to go into the Royal Shakespeare Company and do more Shakespeare, and she also does lots of short films and more screen acting.

Isn't it wonderful to have so many people in the profession as and when you need advice?
Absolutely. My sisters are like my best friends and will always be the first persons I am going to call.