The phrase “musical phenomenon” is oft used- and abused. But for “Dirty Dancing” it is apposite. Critics can be critical, yet the crowds keep on turning out to see it, and for so long as they do, it will survive. The film was a sensation on release in 1987, over thirty years on, that excitement and enthusiasm lives on, this stage adaptation, premiered in 2004 has been vital in keeping that spirit alive.
Its secret is no secret. The stage adaptation recreates the hugely successful film faithfully, it gives the audience what they want, word for word, note for note, the DD aficionados know the score, the words by heart, and the extra scenes too. The music and dance which made the film so popular is gloriously reproduced, skirts swirl, muscular torso’s ripple, the score soars. A classic love story plays out against a beefed -up social backcloth – sit back and enjoy.
The curtain opens in the Summer of 1963. Young Frances “Baby” Houseman is on holiday with her family, chances upon a party, meets a bad boy dance instructor, and learns a few moves which are not found in any dance manual – and we follow her as she has the time of her life, desperately trying to impress her new beau, and learn a few dance steps along the way. Can love draw together an uptown girl and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks? Well, “Nobody puts baby in the corner!” Frankie Valli didn’t arrive until late December, obviously…
Primarily, this is a song and dance show. A vibrantly costumed cast arrive in full early on to let you know what is coming your way. Principles Johnny ( Michael O Reilly),and Frances ( Kira Malou) ,are compelling . Lizzie Ottley impresses with her acting, her comedy, and her singing, as Baby’s sister Lisa.O’Reilly does not put a foot wrong in his debut professional role, and draws the biggest cheer, and leer, of the night for his bare buttocks moment. . Simone Covele is outstanding as Penny the pro dancer, she absolutely convinces in the role ,sporting a series of lavish dresses and footwork which mesmerises. Indeed choreographer Gillian Bruce does a fine job throughout with snappy, pin sharp routines.
Although we are never more than a few moments away from a song and a dance, the script has some genuinely funny lines. The physical comedy in the water scenes was consummately executed, assisted by some adept use of translucent screens. I have never seen anyone dance on a log before. Perhaps there should be more dancing on logs in musicals? Revolving scenery produced lightning fast scene changes and a brisk pace, a credit to producer Karl Sydow and director Frederico Bellone.
All the hits from the film’s soundtrack, which includes “Do You Love Me?”, “She’s Like The Wind” and “Time Of My Life”, are featured in the stage show along with some written for stage numbers. Some fifty songs in total. The story itself has been adapted for the stage by Eleanor Bergstein, who skilfully retains the feel of the film whilst making it work for theatre.
“In The Still Of The Night” by Billy Kostecki ( Alex Wheeler) was spine-tingling, the rousing finale came from him and the formidable Sian Gentle-Green as Elizabeth who ensured that the audience had the time of their life, and “that lift”.
The opening night audience loved it, its slick production and punchy dancing the highlights, even if the story itself did not engage as strongly as it might. “Dirty Dancing” runs until 7th April and continues on nationwide tour at: Ipswich, Halifax, Manchester, Guildford, Liverpool, Grimsby, Glasgow, Southsea, Cardiff, Northampton, Dublin, Bristol, Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Leeds
Approximate runtime 135minutes.