Jazz hands at the ready! Yes, we finally reached that magical show where Strictly meets musical theatre and somehow finds a whole new level of camp sparkliness. Rising to the occasion (and also upping her game for this tight quarter-final) was Helen Skelton, who fully embraced the power and sensuality of her Sally Bowles routine – and its subtext of moving on from her cheating ex. It should really have been a perfect 40, but Skelton will surely be delighted with her leaderboard-topping three 10s.
Will Mellor also impressed with his emotive Miss Saigon foxtrot, as did Fleur East with a glorious American in Paris quickstep and (a slightly overmarked, in my view) Molly Rainford with her Chicago Charleston. But series leader Hamza Yassin slid down the standings with his Lion King samba, even though it won praise from the judges and scored a strong 36. Likewise, Kym Marsh wound up bottom with 34 – which shows just how high the standard was (or how inflated the scoring has become; a bit of both, perhaps).
Will voters roar for Yassin? We'll find out in the dramatic climax to this Musicals special on Saturday night at 5:40pm on BBC One.
Helen Skelton is queen of the cabaret
In the intro to her Couple’s Choice, an emotional Skelton reminisced about her idyllic childhood and support from her parents. She confessed that she had said yes to Strictly in order to put a smile back on her face, and that she was embracing the empowerment of her sexy Cabaret routine – a veiled reference to coming through the recenet challenges in her personal life.
And oh boy, were we all left smiling after this fab-u-lous Fosse number. Wow wow wow! I would say Skelton was indistinguishable from the professionals, except that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It was an absolute star turn. She nailed every single nuance of the routine, from the isolations to the splits, and she revelled in the characterisation: essentially, a raised middle finger to her ex.
Shirley Ballas said she had goosebumps: it was a memory she would treasure forever. Anton Du Beke admitted he felt emotional, watching Skelton grow in confidence throughout the number. Craig Revel Horwood thought she could have used her centre and hyperextended more (and was roundly booed by the entire studio). But she did a brilliant job with the Fosse choreography. Motsi Mabuse loved that Skelton led the dance. Three 10s for a well-deserved 39.
Will Mellor is the consummate leading man
A romantic duet from Miss Saigon for Mellor and Nancy Xu (which also meant putting Mellor in uniform, thank you for that). It gave their foxtrot real passion and power – as ever, this pair are great storytellers, and it was supported by the excellent technique and partnering. Their routine also benefited from its stripped-back presentation: no extra pros, no annoying props. When the performance is that strong, you don’t need them.
Mabuse loved the emotions – it was “a quiet wow”. Ballas praised Mellor’s heartfelt performance and beautiful footwork. Du Beke said it was dramatically strong, sensitive and poignant, plus his foxtrot was a dream. Revel Horwood was reminded of his days in the chorus of Miss Saigon. He too loved it. Three 10s for another 39.
Hamza Yassin works his animal magic
We’ve already had a Lion King number this series (and it doomed poor Richie Anderson). Thankfully, Hamza Yassin escaped the furry animal costume, though did wind up in a sparkly corset, so… He and Jowita Przystal had the conceptual challenge of blending party dance samba with an emotive number paying tribute to your ancestors – the latter represented mainly through angsty expressions, fog and a boyband power grab. Oddly, it actually worked, thanks to Yassin’s commitment and seriously impressive technique.
Du Beke praised his fluidity and samba bounce. Revel Horwood agreed: fantastic hips and stationary samba walks. Mabuse loved Yassin’s body action. Ballas thought they portrayed the subtle music, and delivered a mix of rhythms. He also fixed his turned-in feet. Four 9s for 36.
Kym Marsh makes an emphatic return
Break out the leg warmers! Kym Marsh paid tribute to the late Irene Cara with her 80s fashion-galore Fame routine: headband, crop top, sparkly leotard-style knickers, gigantic perm. It was a fun, full-on camp number, but rather too beholden to the theme – complete with pro dancers jumping over a New York taxi. It tipped the dance over into full-on jazz aerobics, plus a disco break, rather than cha cha, which was slightly lacking in both content and technique. But a strong return from Marsh after her week off.
Revel Horwood said Marsh did brilliantly, especially in her solo work. Mabuse thought she got the cheekiness of cha cha, though wanted more hip rotation. Ballas agreed on the solo piece – she didn’t miss a beat. Du Beke said she’s a really good jazz dancer, with immaculate timing, but she needs to bring her weight forward. Two 8s, two 9s for 34.
Molly Rainford is jazz hot
Dressed as a flapper, with Renée Zellweger’s wig from the Chicago movie, Rainford opened the show with a slick, crisp Charleston to the Hot Honey Rag. She did a great job with the swivel action and the precise jazzy style, and held her own against the excess professional dancers (as ever, the irritant of Musicals Week), but could have added a bit more character and flair I felt – it was really well presented, but a tad bland.
Ballas praised the tricks, and said Rainford looked like she was having a ball. Du Beke loved the execution: she upped her game. Revel Horwood noted a low elbow, but thought she had power and style. Mabuse said she matched the professional dancers. A generous two 10s, for 38.
Fleur East whisks us back to the 50s
Well, if dozens of producers aren’t picking up the phone to book East for a musical after this, I’ll eat my tap shoes. Yes, she came into Strictly with performance skills, but she really has made an incredible transformation in how she channels her energy and embraces such distinct dance styles: this American in Paris (super-fast!) quickstep was pure MGM Golden Age magic. I would have liked more in hold, but East handled all of the ensemble interactions elegantly and kept the transitions smooth.
Du Beke said that as far as he was concerned, East had earned her semi-final spot. Revel Horwood: “Class, style, sophistication – gorgeous.” Mabuse said it the sprinkle of magic on top of a great show. Ballas agreed: a beautiful end to the show, with an improved ballroom frame. Two 10s for 38.