Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Russ Spencer
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
It captured the hearts of the nation back in the 80s, and it is still captivating audiences today. Dirty Dancing is a classic coming-of-age tale, which has been reimagined for the stage by the film’s original and talented writer Eleanor Bergstein and resident director Russ Spencer.
The beauty of this story is that it still appeals and is as relevant to teens today, and on opening night at Blackpool the appealability of the production was evident – with a diverse age range all coming together to take a trip down memory lane to where protagonists Johnny Castle (Lewis Griffiths) and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Katie Eccles) fall hopelessly in love at Kellerman’s resort in 1963 America. With that in mind, it is clear why the decision has been made to maintain a loyalty to the original script, combining iconic lines with the original and much-loved soundtrack. At the most memorable moments – the Hey Baby log-walking scene, for instance – the auditorium comes alive, as the audience enjoys getting involved with the reimagining of some of their favourite movie highlights.
That said, with the nature of a musical play, the narrative has had to be condensed, and as such it means that some plot lines are given more weight than others. This does mean that the second half of the production is far superior to the first, with the storytelling being much stronger, and relationships being established with more ease – in particular, the sisters Baby and Lisa Houseman (Lizzie Ottley). While Eccles shows real potential, her character, at times, has been given a comedic and overdramatised element, which takes away from the beautiful subtlety that Grey brought to the leading role. The infamous line, ‘I carried a watermelon’, for example, is done with an over-exaggerated facial expression and while breaking the fourth wall, which ultimately detracts from what made it so humorous all those years ago. Her relationship with the talented Griffiths, however, does develop into a real treat, and the final number (I’ve had) The Time of My Life, does not disappoint.
It is, rightly so for this production, the choreography that is its USP, with the ensemble from beginning to end putting on a real show to numbers such as Do You Love Me?, Johnny’s Mambo and Love Man. Carlie Milner is the technically captivating star of the show as Penny Johnson, and while her rapport with Griffiths isn’t quite as electrifying as you would hope, she does wow with her flamboyant and perfectly rehearsed moves. The set is another highlight, transporting the cast and audience from scene to scene with an impressive design by Wellington Scenic.
For any diehard Dirty Dancing fans, this production does translate well on the stage, and while it can’t quite mirror the magic of Swayze and Grey, it does do a fantastic job of leaving your eyes hungry for more.
Runs until 2 September 2017 | Image: Alistair Muir