Dirty Dancing – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Reviewer: John Kennedy

With pyrotechnic pirouettes, reach for the stars diva diving gymnastics and the decade defining power-ballad The Time of My Life, the eponymous film remains rightly a shameless, polished chrome muscle car vanity mirror for guilty pleasures.

It’s slick, outrageously hip-swinging muscular dash and decibel bling panache still has sweaty, taut sinews quivering with lithesome abandon – and that’s just the drooling fans. So tonight, the faithful anticipate a rose-tinted raunch on steroids.

But there are serious issues that even the staunchest of the adulatory must feel uncomfortable with. Understudy Robert Colvin, as Johnny Castle, sure has the looks, the pecs and the hip-sway swagger. But even the listed 40 and more songs and medleys can only provide so much filler to compensate for a lumpen script and threadbare plot he is struggling through.

His near android response to the bevvy of overdosed hormonal teenage girls is close to asexual bromide. Gillian Bruce (Choreography) coaxes plenty of vibrant and dynamic dancing from principals and chorus – the finale dance-off climax doing exactly what is expected of it.

Cocky punk from the wrong side of the tracks, Johnny, falls in love with wealthy parent’s daughter ‘Baby’ (Katie Eccles). She’s a cute enough bobby-sox kid who, this being 1963, wants to join the Peace Corps and save the mankind. She’d better get a move on as Kennedy and Krushchev are about to release upon the world their apocalyptic – way before its time swansong – When Two Tribes Go To War. There are times during this performance when you half wish they’d just get on with it.

There’s a campfire homily about how – we must all work together now – that felt as cod convincing as Airplane’s singing nun – it provides as many laughs but for all the wrong reasons. The tokenistic references to the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King are unconvincingly pat if not actually condescending. Jo Servi’s Tito is allowed to bring at least some gravitas to this scene warning the altruistic white kids that things are getting very ugly in The South.

Baby? She just knows there’s good in Johnny and readily jumps in the sack to find out if he’s good in her. That Johnny’s dancing partner, Penny (Carlie Milner) has just gone through a botched abortion conveniently slips her mind. (Character redemption spoiler – Johnny wasn’t the father).

The comic relief struggles to be anything more refreshing than being relieved on from a great height by the elephant in the theatre. Meanwhile, a flash of Johnny’s titanium tight buttocks provides whoops of faux shock and phwoor.

Roberto Comotti’s flexibly mobile set design is ingenious and witty. Its convincing wooden and cardboard tromp l’oeil façade transfers much less successfully to the one-dimensional characters and dialogue. In desperately seeking any soupçon of redeeming merit there comes the realisation that it can provide only momentary respite in the guise of palliative lipstick on a pig.

By now the initiated are way beyond caring and are cranking themselves up for the seat-soaking climax they have tattooed on their DNA. “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” With this production maybe Baby should not only have stayed there but hidden under the table until curtain close. For the determined disciples, none of this matters at all. They adore it.

Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Contributed 

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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