Thursday, September 21

Dirty Dancing – Sheffield Lyceum

Before even entering the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, the buzz and anticipation of the crowd were palpable… With its cult following, Dirty Dancing was in town! As a fan of the 1987 film and, of course, the hip movements of Mr. Swayze himself, the majority of the female audience, like myself, were awaiting a nostalgic trip back to the feelings the film evoked when we first saw it… with more than just a little excitement! With this type of fan base, the show was always going to be a success, but with my critic hat on, the production does have its flaws. However, one of its strengths is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously!

So if you haven’t seen the film, it basically spans a three-week period in 1963, when the Houseman’s (Dr. Jake and Marjorie) and their two daughters Lisa and 17-year-old Frances, known as ‘Baby’, visit the Catskills’ Kellerman’s for their end-of-summer vacation. A resort that caters to the well-to-do clientele and is also a testing ground for emerging entertainers of all kinds. Set against the backdrop of the American 60’s political unease at Martin Luther King’s outcry, we follow the coming-of-age par excellence as it also tackles issues of class, family, loyalty, and right vs. wrong head-on. Baby and Johnny Castle (dance instructor) are from different classes and ways of life, and in everyone’s opinion, they should absolutely not be romantically involved with each other. The stage production closely resembles the film, with a few added scenes giving Marjorie Houseman a large role. Also, Tito’s role is expanded, and there is a stronger emphasis on the ‘Freedom rallies’. All the well-known film lines are in the stage production, from ‘I carried a watermelon’ to ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’, and it could be said that the stage production replicates the film almost entirely. The cast seems to have been chosen for their physical resemblance to the film characters! The costumes are also faithfully true to the film. It seems authenticity is key, and it is meticulously maintained.

Photo: Mark Senior

Directed by Federico Bellone, this production cannot be called a musical in its true sense. The main characters do not break into song, but the iconic soundtrack of the film is used either as pre-recorded music or by Kellerman’s onstage band (Gabriel Askew, Morgan Burgess, Richard John, Tom Mussell, Tom Parsons, Tim Wade), who move around the set to create the required mood and sound great. Three supporting characters sing the big numbers, and these are definitely highlight moments. The stunning vocals of Colin Charles as Tito, Danny Colligan as Billy, and Lydia Sterling as Elizabeth are wonderful and hit the audience with a big dose of nostalgia. The set is simplistic but cleverly used to represent the holiday resort and its interiors, while doubling as beds or tables and chairs are brought on seamlessly by the ensemble. The famous lake scene is cleverly, if a little cheesily, done behind a screen for effect. Obviously, as a heavily dance-based show, the set needs to be as unobtrusive as possible, and the frequent dancing on the stage makes use of every available space. Choreographed by Austin Wilks, the dancing is delightful and then downright dirty when it should be. The caliber of dancers is top-notch, and their skill is wondrous to watch. Wilks ensures all the expected moves are present, and the audience appreciates it!

Georgia Aspinall as Penny has legs that go on for miles and her portrayal of the character and dance skill are sublime … the stand out performer. Kira Malou as Baby and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny Castle have great chemistry and the famous bedroom scene dance is very steamy! It must be so difficult for O’Reilly to stay in character as the whoops and cheers from the audience got louder every time he took off his shirt or trousers.  Malou’s learning the Mambo scene montage was very effective and showed some really strong acting. Jack Loy as Dr Jake Houseman and Taryn Sudding as his wife Marjorie were both strong in role and their daughter Lisa (Daisy Steele) pulled off the hilarity of the out of tune singing with aplomb! Christian James did a sterling performance as Neil Kellerman.

So, where are the flaws? The choreography a little too fast and furious for the soundtrack at times, lacking a rawness… too polished? A stilted yet overly dramatic accent by Michael O’Reilly… visually he hits the spot but he lacks the ‘rough around the edges’ natural charisma we except of Johnny. A little too much of the comedy from Malou as Baby but yet she still embodies the character? The lack of the scene where the Schumacher’s are confronted for their crime and the peculiar song and dance from Mr Schumacher? But we can forgive all this as we are wrapped in a blanket of familiarity and warmth. The experience far outshines the moments of uncertainty and I will be seeing the show again at the first opportunity I get. 

The finale invites the audience to become the patrons of Kellermans and as Johnny runs down the aisle to reclaim the ‘last dance of the season’ we live the experience with them all. Then it’s on your feet for a standing ovation and some in the aisles dancing! With an excellent cast, wonderful music and spectacular dancing… dirty dance yourself off to the Sheffield Lyceum before the 15th July and I promise you ‘You’ll have the time of your life!’

‘Delicious’ describes cast and production…

Playing until 15th July,

Reviewed: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 11th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.