If you didn’t already know ‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage’ is not a musical. In fact, it’s an epic scene-by-scene recreation of the movie which has been made for the stage, written by Eleanor Bergstein and Directed by Federico Bellone. Sure, all the scenes are there (with some others thrown in for artistic/theatrical licence) and the soundtrack accompanies the story throughout (with some added vocals). For me though it honestly felt like we were watching the 1987 cult classic on fast forward as the classic script was rushed and snipped to make it work for the stage. Whilst this creative decision is understandable, this version loses a great deal of the movie’s warmth and the popular script lines just seem to drift around the auditorium without landing anywhere meaningful.
That said, the audiences still wolf whistled at all the right places and whooped and cheered at the site of Johnny Castle’s bare chest (and bottom) which will in turn created a buzz about the production, but theatrically this piece is very confused with some real strengths, but also some obvious weaknesses.
The stand-out performance of the night came from Carlie Milner in the supporting role of Penny Johnson. Milner is an exceptionally athletic and talented Dancer who excelled in this role, executing Gillian Bruce’s movie inspired choreography perfectly. She delivered a strong and dramatic performance throughout which is to be commended.
Greg Fossard also gave a very warm supporting performance as Neil Kellerman, Heir to the Kellerman empire. He delivered incredibly funny one-liners and is a skilled character actor. A joy to watch.
Unfortunately, the performances by both Lewis Griffiths (Johnny Castle) and Katie Eccles (‘Baby’ Houseman) just didn’t seem to work at all and they lost that winning formula of sex appeal and talent made famous by the movie. Eccles approached her role with a likeable goofy smile; a clown-like quality which whilst at the start seemed endearing, but she failed to develop the chemistry seen in the movie and never quite arrived as the more mature Frances Houseman. Griffiths on the other hand has the moves, the muscles and the deep voice but failed to command the intense masculine sexuality of Johnny Castle. He wasn’t in charge of the role made famous by Patrick Swayze and as a result failed to make the character his own. Griffiths is a very talented Dancer and seasoned Musical Theatre performer but this role is quite limited and truth be told, I wanted him to start singing to really bring the role to life.
The winners of this production are without doubt Roberto Comotti’s set design and Valerio Tiberi’s lighting design. Both transported the audience back in time to 1963 America with ease. Comotti offers up a rotating scaled set of Kellermans’ famous resort, with allows for seamless scene changes and an awe inspiring cinematic quality whilst Tiberi’s use of projection was some of the best lighting effects I have seen on stage allowing Bellone to recreate the iconic log and lake scenes as if the audience were watching the movie on the big screen.
Sound was a big issue for this performance, with very limited coverage from speakers meaning that dialogue and vocals were heard from one side of the stage only and the sung numbers “This Magic Moment” and “Do You Love Me?” could hardly be heard at all over the backing track.
Without doubt, this production will always play to packed houses every night. It will carry the same fan base as the movie, those middle age diehard fans who used to dance around their houses in their teens announcing that “Nobody Puts Baby in The Corner” and attempting to deliver that iconic, but impossible dance lift!! As a true Dirty Dancing fan, I genuinely wanted to love this production but it left me feeling like a “wasted night” rather than the “time of my life”.
The UK tour continues around venues throughout September: http://dirtydancingontour.com
Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 29th August 2017
This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★