Dirty Dancing – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein

Director: Federico Bellone

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

With Ghost: The Musical leaving the city last week the spirit of Swayze lives on in Edinburgh through Dirty Dancing. The touring stage musical of the 1987 movie lives on, refusing to sit in the corner and stay silent for long.

Francis ‘Baby’ Houseman can do no wrong. Fast-tracking her way to a Nobel peace prize – it isn’t until she encounters walking hunk of misunderstood bad boy Johnny that she begins to find a firmer alluring footing. With an intense, fearful and almost intimidating fanbase can this adaptation capture the hip-thrusting, torso grabbing appeal of its predecessor?

A balance of dance and narrative is formed between Gillian Bruce’s choreography and Eleanor Bergstein’s adaptation. There is a focus more on humour, pushing for gags in spaces between key moments from the film. This humour though is delivered straight from the sixties. It pushes some buttons occasionally but is overall safe, clean and leaves the raunchiness to the dances.

As far as a screen to stage adaptations go Dirty Dancing is by far one of the more faithful. Something which works in its favour but sometimes takes with the other hand. It’s a tried and tested narrative which transitions well. It does, however, mean there really isn’t much added outside of musical numbers, most of which sit at the sidelines to the time of our lives we’re waiting for.

There’s a tenderness between Malou and O’Reilly which is believable, indeed, touching in moments. The real passion though lies with Simone Covele as Penny, Johnny’s original dance partner. This lies almost entirely in her movement, choreographed utterly remarkably. This is in no doubt also down to dance captain Charlie Milner run as the previous touring Penny. Any number which also contains Covele ultimately becomes her number.

Penny of course, as technically sublime as her performer may be is still really the side-line for Johnny and Baby. Tonight, Michael O’Reilly channels a Johnny which sits a little more on the puffed-out chest than the out and out bad boy. He’s charismatic, captivating and disgustingly attractive. Yet despite this, it’s difficult to hate him (though not impossible). Kira Marlou’s Baby is playful, her mixture of comedic movement lacing with her technical choreography working well for the more awkward dance numbers.

Previously Roberto Comotti’s set design has felt a tad overindulgent, though inside the Festival Theatre it seems to flow better. Its scale isn’t as empty as before, helping the flow of movement for performers. What really plays around with the audience however is Valerio Tiberi’s lighting design and projection work. It is wholly self-aware in its absurdity to the point just short of humorous perfection.

It isn’t all dancing however, with a push for musical numbers, the Kellerman’s band members help gyrate those hips like no other. Vocally there are stand-out performances from Greg Fossard and Sian Gentle-Green who do just as much as the dancers in riling up the audience.

Flashy, fleshy and served with a heaping of filler – filler which serves to pad the runtime. It’s pleasant filler however, the sort of take it or leave it variety.

Dirty Dancing raises the temperature in the room, but it feels a tad superfluous. There are talented performers, entertainment and plenty to keep an audience content for an evening but there’s a hollowness to it. It hasn’t added enough to stand apart from the movie, which is a shame for a cast which is proving they have the capability to make this production their own.

Runs until 9 March 2019 then continues on tour | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

A faithful adaptation of the film

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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