It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since Dirty Dancing first hit our screens, but the nostalgia stakes are high when it comes to this theatrical production of the iconic American romantic drama dance film.
‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage’, is, I am pleased to report, rather faithful to the original film. It features the original dialogue and script by Eleanor Bergstein and the much-loved songs and dances every Dirty Dancing fan will expect and appreciate.
Set in 1963, the story is a triumphant tale of young love. Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Kira Malou) is on holiday with her parents at the upscale Kellerman’s resort, when she falls in love with a dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Michael O’Reilly).
Beneath the polished veneer of all things respectable at Kellerman’s, there’s an underbelly of life’s hard knocks, and amid those with huge chips on their shoulders, is a dance craze to relieve their misery: Dirty Dancing. The scene sizzled. Legs were spread so wide you didn’t know where to look. Penny Johnson (Carlie Milner), Castle’s sidekick dancing partner, is the true star of the show – I have no idea how her body can move the way it does, but she is elastic and electric.
Baby gets drawn into this other world because she wants to help. Innocent and naïve we watch her journey from a clumpy three-legged elephant under the instruction of Castle and Johnson, to a diva on the dancefloor. The transformation is joyous and yearned for. And, ultimately, she gets her man. The finale of ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ is a foot stomping crowd-pleaser.
Of course, what makes the journey so enjoyable is the trauma and strife, the setbacks and sagas that shackle our heroine and threaten the desired outcome. With a nod to the big issues of the day (and today) we see classism, racism and sexism intertwining with how these two may not end up together.
The production is high energy, and the choreography and live music are fantastic. But, hand on heart, I think they could’ve gone bigger. Audiences now are so used to the likes of ‘Strictly’, that they demand to be wowed even more than before. Not fully exploring the obvious talents of Milner was a missed opportunity for an eye-popping performance.
In the original film, Swayze and Grey fizzed with chemistry. But on stage, Malou and O’Reilly come across more as good friends than lustful lovers. O’Reilly is total eye-candy, but he lacks the charismatic punch such a big role requires. Fortunately, the star quality of the rest of the cast compensates.
But even with these flaws, this is a fantastically fun show. Time has not aged the joy it brings; ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ and, nobody puts dirty dancing in the dark. This show will make you smile and sing, laugh and cry (happy tears), and want to dirty dance.
Running Wednesday 2nd February – Saturday 16th April 2022 at the Dominion Theatre https://www.dirtydancingontour.com
Reviewer: Samantha Collett
Reviewed: 8th February 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★