The stage was set with stars, glitter, and flashing lights. Dancers in vibrant costumes took their places, ready to strut across the floor, bringing the audience into the world of ballroom dance. Simply Ballroom should have been full of glamour and entertainment, but the show often felt more like an over-the-top lounge act. Debbie Reynolds, however, was a treat to behold, proving that age has done nothing to diminish her wit and charm. Her moments onstage were by far the most enjoyable of the evening. As she told hilarious stories of old Hollywood parties and personalities, the audience was able to laugh freely. This afforded a welcome break from the stuffiness of her younger cohosts, Sam Kane and Nicole Funicelli, who moved awkwardly in and out of the various musical numbers. While these two were billed as singers and meant to accompany the background music used for the dancers, their presence onstage was distracting.
The dancers themselves, professional ballroom dancing couples from around the world, were undoubtedly talented. South African champions Mark-Bruce Sasnovski and Lizl Jooste, who won the evening’s Latin dance competition according to the “clap-o-meter,” stood out in every group performance. They moved together fluidly and effortlessly, radiating energy. Throughout the night, the audience was given sporadic history lessons regarding ballroom dances such as the foxtrot, which began as the “quick trot,” the steamy tango, the elegant waltz, and the spicy samba, which was by far the most invigorating step of the night.
But it was Reynolds’s anecdotes about her experiences as a teenage movie star that kept the show afloat. In her opening monologue, she identified herself to the younger crowd, saying, “You might have seen a small science fiction movie a while back, called Star Wars, with a princess dressed in a white gown. Well, I’m her mother.” She talked about working with Gene Kelley on Singin’ in the Rain at age 17, claiming that Donald O’Connor was much more fun to hang out with during filming, as “Mr. Kelley was too old: 37!” and always telling her to “do better.” Toward the end of her routine, her impressions of stars such as Bette Davis, Mae West, and Jimmy Stewart left everyone laughing.
Despite these laughs from Reynolds, and a few stellar dance numbers, the show overall felt cluttered and lacked cohesion. Perhaps Simply Ballroom should have kept things a little, well, simpler.