One of the most loved films of the 80’s and even now, Dirty Dancing has charmed viewers for many years – but can the stage show have the same effect?
Taking us back to 1963 in the quaint holiday village of Kellerman’s, Francis ‘Baby’ Houseman is on a family vacation when she meets dance instructor Johnny Castle. Baby is thrown into a world she’s been shielded from, as daddy’s little girl sees her life change forever as she becomes Johnny’s leading lady on and off the dancefloor.
The pair of Kira Malou as Baby and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny pay the perfect homage to the original couple played so iconically by Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, whilst still bringing their own flavour and panache to the roles. The audience swoons for O’Reilly, just as much as Baby does throughout as he struts across the stage with the arrogant swagger the character is known and loved for. Malou’s innocent and naïve nature is portrayed with great authenticity whilst bringing glimpses of maturity throughout the intensely passionate scenes. There’s no doubt these two provide the chemistry this couple need, building gradually until peaking to the extent of hearing embarrassed titters from the audience. It sure does live up to its name, there’s definitely lots of dirty dancing.
Georgia Aspinall plays a fabulous Penny Johnson, Johnny’s dance partner who finds herself in trouble thanks to the sleazy Robbie, played by Callum Fitzgerald. The combination of Georgia and Michael on the dance floor is pure fire, their movements so effortlessly precise and controlled, immediately drawing the eye to their presence on stage. O’Reilly’s energy on stage is something to behold: whilst being cool, calm and collected he not once fails to bring the energy a big stage show like this needs, but still keeping true to the character. He portrays the choreography with ease and charms with his heart-warming chemistry with both Penny and Baby, not only showing his sensual, fiery side but also a caring and protective gentleman.
The choreography by Austin Wilks is inspired. With kicks, flicks and lots of swivelling hips the movement brings all those moves audiences know and love to the stage, whilst still managing to make it feel new and exciting with latin and samba motifs brought to life by a talented cast of dancers. Of course, the real wow moment is when they nail ‘that lift’; you can truly feel the grins spread across the faces of all audience members as they roar into applause.
The set is clever and sophisticated, bringing Kellerman’s to life with the dining room, golf course, lake side and dance studio. The memorable scene from the film where Johnny and Baby practise lifts in the water is smartly executed, whilst not taking itself too seriously. The audience plays along whilst suddenly aware of the differences between stage and screen.
The adaptation sits in a sort of no-man’s land somewhere between musical and play, not quite fitting the criteria of either, whilst still providing the highly enjoyable energy of both. The Kellerman’s band are phenomenal; we’re sometimes reminded of their part of the action as they occasionally interact with the main characters and they become part of the furniture, weaving scenes together and embedding the well loved soundtrack featuring songs such as ‘Do You Love Me’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Love Man’ and, of course, ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’.
Special mention must be given to the exceptional saxophonist Tom Mussell, who not only wows with his saxophone skills, but also his vocal talent, his rendition of ‘Hungry Eye’s was brilliant as he effortlessly swapped between sax and singing, demonstrating some unbelievable breath control. His infectious energy throughout also stands out, making Kellerman’s band much more than an onstage band but a key part of the story.
The climatic ending doesn’t disappoint: the audience erupts as Johnny re-enters through the auditorium to deliver the iconic line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. The theatre ignites and true elation oozes from the audience bringing the production to a close on a massive high.
Dirty Dancing is one of the best screen to stage adaptations, and the bottom line is, if you’re a fan of the original film, you will not be disappointed. There is zero chance you will leave the theatre with anything other than a smile on your face. This show gets everything right, from the casting to the set, choreography and the fine balance between humour and sexual energy.
Grab your tickets now while still in Manchester until Saturday 3rd June, you’ll have the time of your life. Tickets can be purchased from https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dirty-dancing/palace-theatre-manchester/
Reviewer: Alison Baines
Reviewed: 30th May 2023
North West End UK Rating: