Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Dirty Dancing, the stage mounting of the classic film, has been enjoying UK tours and West End runs for many years and it is now back on the road in a fabulous, feel good production. The show, written by Eleanor Bergstein, tells the story of Frances “Baby” Houseman and how she is taught to dance by Johnny Castle, whilst falling further and further in love with him. Throw in the an energetic sister, disapproving parents and a whole ensemble of outstanding dancers (and a few singers) this is a really fun night out.
Federico Bellone directs the production and keeps the action moving at a good pace. He pulls out the comedy as well as the moments of emotion and heart, although it would have been nice if he’d helped some of the cast to find their own versions of the characters rather than feeling they have to fit the mould made by the film. Bellone also designs the set, which is big and bright, leaving plenty of open space for the big dance numbers. Seeing some more sets depicting fuller rooms might not have gone amiss, but your reviewer did appreciate that all the set pieces were practical with barely a projection in sight. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes are colourful and add another healthy dose of fun to the proceedings. Valerio Tiberi’s lighting design is fairly good, although there were some strange moments of strobe lighting that feel unexplained. Some lighting cues were missed slightly, although that can be expected on the first night in a new venue.
Of all the creative team it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Austin Wilks as choreographer that shines the most. The choreography is outstanding, with a lovely mix of styles and scales. He brings to life the iconic The Time Of My Life brilliantly, but throughout the show the choreography never wavers. It is consistently impressive and full of colour and excitement.
Casting Directors Harry Blumenau and Debbie O’Brien have assembled a tremendous cast for this tour. Leading the cast are Kira Malou as Frances “Baby” Houseman and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny Castle. Malou portrays Baby’s emotional journey and process of learning to dance really well, and creates a complex character that the audience can root for. O’Reilly is perfectly cast as the Johnny, giving it plenty of swagger and looking the part. Malou and O’Reilly have believable chemistry and dance together brilliantly, delivering on all the iconic moments that the audience is expecting.
There is equal amounts of fantastic talent throughout the supporting cast. Georgia Aspinall showcases her phenomenal dance ability as Penny Johnson, whilst also delivering some very moving scenes throughout the show. She has a lovely rapport with Malou and O’Reilly, and it’s almost a shame we don’t get more time just seeing the three as a trio of friends. Daisy Steere adds bundles of energy to the show as Lisa Houseman, whilst Mark Faith gets plenty of laughs as Mr Schumacher. Jack Loy and Taryn Sudding as Jake and Marjorie Houseman, Baby’s parents, bring a groundedness to the show. They make a truly believable on stage couple, and also get to demonstrate their strong singing ability in the one moment where the audience sees what the show could have been like if it had been a more traditional musical.
For the most part, the songs are performed by cast members who almost narrate and punctuate the action rather than the characters as would be the case in a traditional musical. Colin Charles is great fun leading a number of songs as Tito Suarez. His rendition of Love Man is the ideal opening to Act Two and he has the audience in the palm of his hands. Lydia Sterling (playing Elizabeth) delivers a fantastic rendition of Yes!, and Danny Colligan (playing Billy Kostecki) demonstrates his terrific vocal ability on a number of songs as well. Colligan and Sterling give a brilliant rendition of The Time Of My Life, giving the audience exactly what they wanted from that song. Their voices really work very well together. The Kellerman’s Band provide great live accompaniment to the musical numbers – Tom Mussell deserves a particular mention for his impressive ability to switch from playing saxophone to delivering wonderful vocals within seconds flawlessly.
This production ofDirty Dancingis slick, colourful, full of energy and pure joy. This is certainly a show that can be enjoyed by the mega fans of the film, as well as those who have never seen it before.
Runs until 15th July 2023