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Dirty Dancing – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein

Director: Sarah Tipple

Choreographer: Kate Champion

Reviewer: Laura Stimpson

[Rating:2.5]

Dirty Dancing has a cult following due to the success of the 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. The show comes to Leeds on its first ever UK tour after major global success andjudging by the emotion, screams, cheers and air punching at seemingly random points throughout this show, the Leeds audience was tonight packed with diehard fans.

Transported (through a projected scene) to New York’s Catskill Mountains in the summer of ’63 where 17 year old Baby, aka Frances Houseman (Emily Holt) is on holiday with her family. Baby stumbles across a dance party and is mesmerised by the dancers and their raunchy moves. Baby is not like the dancing girls, she is young, shy and naïve but longs to be able to dance, especially after dance instructor Johnny Castle (Paul-Michael Jones) catches her eye. When Johnny’s partner can no longer dance, Baby gets her big chance, if only she can pull off the moves.

This stage version is a total regurgitation of the 1987 film, to the point that the audience can (and will) speak the lines along with the cast. Video and projection designer Jon Driscoll steals the show by transporting us from a golf course to a campsite in seconds. Other projection highlights also include dance scenes in a corn field and in water, these scenes are very effective and original.

The show begins in good spirit, with some of the iconic songs from the film. The band are such an integral part of all musicals, but so often they are unseen throughout, in this performance the band take centre stage on a purpose built platform, they can be seen behind a screen each time they perform, and the screen is taken away to make them appear as the live band in the dance club. It’s disappointing however, that a good proportion of the music is not actually live, but a soundtrack.

The dancing is great and some ensemble pieces are breathtaking. It’s difficult to take your eyes off Charlotte Gooch as Penny Johnson and it is unsurprising that Baby wants to be just like her. Her dancing is beautiful, sexy, and she is unbelievably flexible. Emilia Williams is strong in the rôle of Lisa Houseman, Baby’s sister. She enters a talent show with the song Lisa’s Hula, which is hilarious and leads to the two best scenes of the show.

The downsides to this performance? The acting – it feels like the characters are just saying the lines in an American accent (some bad ones) and there’s nothing much behind it. At times it’s difficult to hear the words and the balance between the band and vocalists could be better. For such an up tempo musical, it’s fairly slow moving until the last 15 minutes, the scenes are short which seems to hinder the flow of the show and sometimes you’re left thinking “what was that all about?”.

The show ends on a high with (I’ve had) the Time of My Life, the scene the audience has been waiting for all night and it does not disappoint. It is sung beautifully by Thomas Aldridge and Aimie Atkinson and of course the dance is well worth the wait.

“Do you love me?” Unfortunately not. This version of Dirty Dancing is all flash with no bang. There are some great dance scenes, effective projection and set, but the show is definitely aimed at those film obsessives who want to see a live version of the film. Fans of the film certainly seemed to have the time of their life but for anyone else, it only maybe deserves Just One Look for the projection and Penny Gooch’s dancing alone.

Runs until Saturday 23rd June 2012

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