An Italian dream

Giovanni Pernici

Giovanni Pernici sells a fantasy through outstanding dance and surprisingly good singing, writes Michelle Wood…


Giovanni Pernici is something of a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ legend. With more than one million followers on Instagram and having won the show with Rose Ayling-Ellis in 2021, despite a miserable crash out last year while dancing with Richie Anderson, his popularity among his devoted fans has never waned.

The Italian Stallion is not only smouldering hot, but he can dance like it’s no one’s business. And it turns out, he can sing, too. Above all, Giovanni is a brand. Oozing stereotypical Italian machismo, and a great sense of humour, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows exactly how to play up to his legions of female fans – and it was those fans that he set out to entertain at a sold-out Assembly Hall on Sunday evening with the last show in this year’s tour: ‘Giovanni Pernici: Made in Italy’.

As the name suggests, this show is a celebration of Pernici’s home country, while constantly making amusing parallels to Britain – his newly-adopted home over the last eight or nine years.

While the excited crowds streamed in, the company were already on stage. Backed by typically Italian village scenery, the performers went about their business while the crowds took their seats. Several of the dancers, including Lauren Oakley, a newcomer to Strictly last season and Giovanni’s leading lady in this show, mingled with the audience, taking selfies and handing out silk roses smothered in Giovanni’s own bespoke perfume.

“This is for you,” Lauren smiled, handing my eight-year-old daughter a rose. “It’s from Giovanni.” My daughter’s face lit up and she clutched it tight, not quite believing her luck. I saw similar looks on the faces of some far older women who received roses, as they pressed their faces into his scent, eyes closed, savouring their fantasies.

And so the show started with a charismatic tribute to ‘La La Land’, and the cast broke out in song to ‘Another Day of Sun’. They may have been singing about LA, but the atmosphere of a Sicilian village was well and truly set.

From the outset, Lauren Oakley commanded the stage. Her strength, form and discipline as a dancer are astounding, and it is no wonder that she is back yet again to tour with Giovanni. Best of all, she shared the news during the show that she will return to Strictly this year, along with Giovanni. Although she kept mum about whether she would have a partner, she did hint that Giovanni would possibly face some competition.

Also among the company is Michelle Andrews, whose vocals carry the show, and the ensuing blend of singing, dancing and live music is masterful, comparable to any West End show I have ever seen.

Giovanni’s charisma and personal voice clearly shine through – it is the Giovanni show, and he interacts with the audience with ease, poking fun at himself with likeable charm. When he took to the stage to sing Puccini’s ‘Nessun dorma’, the crowd erupted. It seems singing has indeed been his hidden talent.

The production moved at pace, with a precise and intense Argentinian tango by Giovanni and Lauren, displaying tricky ganchos and the sharp, staccato moves. Sultry and seductive, it turned the heat up a few notches, before the company launched into a rousing crowd-pleaser with ‘Greased Lightning’.

If the first act was superb, the second was sublime, as Giovanni took to the stage in a same-sex dance with a male company member. That stand-out number embodied all the power of the paso, the tenderness of the ballroom and sultriness of the tango. It was then that he took the opportunity to address the tabloid rumours surrounding his reportedly bad relationship with his partner, Richie, in the last season of Strictly. “There is nothing wrong with two men dancing together,” he said, “but please, if you are ever to go on Strictly, avoid dressing up like a warthog and dancing to this…” The crowd roared as a snippet of “Hakuna Matata rang out.

“After I won with Rose, I was on the edge of a precipice… I thought I was untouchable… and then the producers had other ideas… they dressed me up like a warthog… It’s hard to do an emotional speech dressed like that.”

The self-effacing honesty won him even more points with an audience already lapping up his presence.

In the remainder of the second act, the show returned to the theme of love, offering up exquisite choreography in contemporary dance, and the inclusion of British sign language during one of the songs in a touching homage to Rose, followed a breakneck mambo. All the dancers excelled, but Lauren’s extensions and lines are simply mesmerising.

The show built to a crescendo and then concluded with a series of outstanding group numbers that had the audience on their feet clapping along, before begging for an encore.

As Giovanni ended his four-month tour with this show Tunbridge Wells, he took the opportunity to thank his entire crew, before whipping off his shirt as a final gift to the gaggles of women who seemed certain to rush the stage.

Giovanni Pernici is not just an outstanding dancer – he is a showman who seems set for longevity. His show skilfully played out a series of fantasy scenarios to fulfil the desires of any Giovanni-lover. The Assembly Hall crowds did not leave disappointed.

The people of Tunbridge Wells are indeed lucky to be able to watch this calibre of production locally, and the Assembly Hall is to be commended for this great booking.

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