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26th December 2023

Dancing in a Winter Wonderland review: A fabulous celebration of the festive season

Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara’s ‘Dancing in a Winter Wonderland’ is a fabulous celebration of the winter season.
Dancing in a Winter Wonderland review: A fabulous celebration of the festive season
Photo: Fiona Whyte @ Dancing in a Winter Wonderland

Everybody’s favourite Strictly couple, Aljaž Škorjanec and Janette Manrara, are back on tour! Their fifth headlining tour, second consecutive Christmas tour, and first tour not to feature “Remember/ing” in the title, Dancing in a Winter Wonderland is a fabulous celebration of the festive season.

The tour stars Aljaž and Janette alongside singers Miranda Wilford and Adrian Hansel, lead partners Robbie Kmetoni and Faye Huddleston, and dance captain Kiera Brunton. The cast was accompanied by dancers Kate Kenrick, Rose Wild, Jack Dargen, George Michaelides, and Tonye Scott-Obene.

As is a staple of their shows, Dancing in a Winter Wonderland has a simple but stylish set (Doug FF Cairns) made up of walls with screens, with stunning screen content and dazzling digital design (Ryan Howard) to help establish various locations and vibes. Cairns’ luscious lighting captures the aura of each and every scene.

There is an abundance of captivating costumes – so many, in fact, they probably need a tour van of their own! Costume stylist Carol Howard and wardrobe and costume maker Chris Davidson have masterfully combined Christmas and ballroom. Matt Howes’ music direction is fantastic, with a wonderful selection of songs chosen, all of them mixed wonderfully.

However, some of the songs felt a little out of place, and their inclusion was a bit tenuous. It seemed like the creatives wanted to include some non-Christmas songs, so they thought of reasons to include them. Sometimes it worked; other times, it felt a bit off.

The show is directed and choreographed by Gareth Walker, who must be applauded for the numerous dance forms used in this Christmas production. Whilst the theme of the show is Christmas, diversity is seen in the dance.

The opening number, though charming and welcoming, could be bigger. It was not until a little into the show that I was transfixed. nAljaž and Janette have a few dances together, beginning with ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, in which Janetta wears a sexy, sparkly, short, red dress. The dance, though lovely, is forgettable amongst some of the more striking numbers.

For instance, their Act Two dance to Danny Elfman’s ‘Ice Dance’ from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is absolutely breathtaking. They completely captured the tantalising, budding romance of the film’s central pair. Janette’s pale blue gown flowed angelically, like running water, and whilst the aura of the number was icy, the audience glowed with warmth.

Aljaž and Janette often danced with their lead partners. In the first act, there is a gorgeous number in which Aljaž and Faye dance in a library living room, with an open fire on the back screen and the frames of all of the screens lit up with warm lights.

After this, Janette joked that she had permitted Faye to dance with Aljaž like that before revealing that Aljaž and Faye have been dancing together longer than she and Aljaž have been dating. She then told us how she and Aljaž fell in love (with dramatic license) but stopped herself and decided to set the scene and turn the story into a song and dance number.

Two dancers, portraying a past Aljaž and Janette, took to the stage as Janette sang the Four Seasons’ ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)’. The remaining dancers then joined, one pair after another, portraying Aljaž and Janette at different stages, and eventually all together, with Janette and Miranda singing Chuck Berry’s ‘Run Rudolph Run’.

Their first Act closed with a pretty fun number, beginning with ‘Silent Night’, followed by Rozalla’s ‘Everybody’s Free to Feel Good’, and then ‘Joy to the World’. The second song felt a bit out of place but Miranda’s vocals were utterly wonderful so who cares?

It was the second Act, however, where things really got going, with a delightful opening number in which the cast were all dressed as various Christmas characters. Janette sang Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ with the boys, whilst Aljaž sang ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town’ with the ladies.

There was, of course, a Disney tribute, which Janette teased on a few occasions. Janette, who was born in Florida, is one of the world’s biggest Disney fans; she was even chosen to host Disney 100 The Concert earlier this year. This section was made up of a few songs from Frozen, with the franchise’s winter setting fitting nicely with the Christmas theme of the tour.

Janette addressed her Latin heritage in an ensemble dance to ‘Carnaval del Barrio’ from Lin Manuel Miranda’s New York-set musical In the Heights, which she sang wonderfully. The song opens with the female protagonist, a Latina, revealing that her favourite time of the year is Christmas. Before the number, Janette had commented on New York’s association with Christmas. This was all tied together nicely – like a Christmas present with a bow on top!

Miranda and Adrian offered a roaring rendition of the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ (featuring Kirsty MacColl), with the entire cast (including the two singers) finishing the number with an Irish dance. Janette then acknowledged the recent passing of Shane MacGowan. The song’s cold lyric, “Happy Christmas, your arse, I pray God it’s our last,” hits differently now.

The show ended with an energetic Christmas medley, with the dancers dressed like red and green nutcrackers, beginning with Miranda covering Darlene Love’s ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ and ending with her covering Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ – the two Queens of Christmas! The vocalists were given some big songs to sing, and they absolutely smashed it, with Miranda especially getting to showcase her vivacious vocals with the aforementioned songs.

The show has a few memorable moments, namely ‘Ice Dance’ and ‘Fairytale of New York’, and whilst the quality never dips, I cannot help but feel that something is missing. The dancing, though obviously amazing, is not as striking and technical as that seen in ‘Remembering the Oscars’ and other Strictly shows. Every number had my eyes brimming with glee but never was my jaw on the floor.

The production could do with a little jazz; I’m talking confetti, fire, pyrotechnics or smoke. Not even ‘Ice Dance’ had smoke. Just before it, however, there were some bubbles, and they had the audience excited.

Aljaž and Janette’s shows are much more than song and dance. The pair turn into stand-up comedians between numbers, entertaining the audience with light-hearted comedy (sometimes a little crude), and their love for one another is clear as day. They also made sure to repeatedly remind us that Manchester (well, Cheshire) is their new home!

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, dancing in a winter wonderland…

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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