Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Reviewer: Clare White
Dirty Dancing, the film, enjoyed reasonable box office success when it was released in 1987, but it was its subsequent soundtrack that elevated the coming-of-age tale into a much-loved cult classic. Now, three decades later, that soundtrack is well used in the latest stage adaptation of film featuring over 40 songs including Hungry Eyes, Do You Love Me? and of course, I’ve Had (The Time of My Life).
Staying faithful to the film’s plot, it’s the summer of 1963 when 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman meets dance teacher Johnny Castle while staying at the Kellerman holiday resort with her family. In between tedious games of golf and Simon Says, Baby, an idealistic Daddy’s girl, is drawn to the more exciting, uninhibited world of the resort’s entertainment staff. When Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, is unable to perform with him in a crucial competition, Baby, despite having two left feet, volunteers to partner him and sparks soon fly.
It’s fair to assume that the majority of the audience will have previously seen the film, which is just as well, as scenes are nipped and tucked and sped through so much so that it can be hard keep up. However, under the direction of Federico Bellone, all the crucial elements are there and done really well – the lake, the lift, the watermelon, etc. Diehard fans will not be disappointed.
Just as you can’t put Baby in a corner, you can’t put Dirty Dancing in any one box. Much like the film, the production isn’t a musical, but it does seem to struggle with its identity and what to do with songs that are such an imperative part of its appeal. While most of the musical numbers are performed by the holiday camp’s resident band or as a track played on a record player, on the odd occasion a character will sing a small refrain. It’s all executed well but does confuse slightly.
Throughout, Gillian Bruce’s choreography is energetic, fun and suitably sexy, showcasing the talents of a strong cast. The set design is attractive and the effects impressive, with a versatile revolving set cleverly transforming each scene.
Filling the dancing shoes of Patrick Swayze is no mean feat, but Michael O’Reilly, who makes his professional debut as Johnny, does a fine job. He shares sizzling chemistry with Kira Malou who really impresses in the role of Baby, capturing both her naïvety and strength. Her portrayal is playful and comedic, providing a refreshing contrast with O’Reilly’s smouldering, misunderstood Johnny. The pair successfully take on two of the most iconic characters in romance movie history, winning over the (mostly female) audience so much so that by the climatic lift ending, it appears most are completely beside themselves.
The renowned fan-favourite is undoubtedly in good hands here in what is an enjoyable and nostalgically feel-good show.
Runs Until 6 April 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed