Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova are the second couple from TV’s Strictly Come Dancing to front their own stage show this year; and if it came to a dance-off, they would beat their predecessors Anton du Beke and Erin Boag hands-down. Latin Fever doesn’t always hit the mark, but unlike Boag and du Beke’s dispiriting Cheek to Cheek, it does actually pay attention to choreographing for the stage instead of just dancing around on it.
The show is a medley of Latin and American dances, in the ballroom style popularised by Strictly. The opening samba section sees the whole cast emerge from tropical mists. The women’s spangled swimsuits sprout bird-of-paradise tails that quiver as they shimmy; the men strut and preen, necklines plunging. The costumes (designed by Kopylova) perform every bit as much as the dancers. The melodramatic tango – unbuttoned white shirts over black lingerie – is part bordello, part Britney Spears, while in Quizás, the teasing choreography is pretty much summed up by perky pink wraps and orange, thigh-tickling tassles.
Despite the pouting eyes (yes, eyes can pout) and insinuating hips, these numbers are oddly sexless; only charismatic backing dancer Tanya Perera looks unforced. You can see the effort taken to impersonate “Latinness” and its glamour on the outside and passion within.
The cast – especially the men – seem more at ease with the less exotic dances, such as the jive, that dominate the second half of the programme. Bennett relaxes, Kopylova has more fun, the musicians get into the swing alongside the dancers, and thankfully there’s more spark than sparkle.