Dirty Dancing – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein

Director: Federico Bellone

Reviewer: Dan English

It does not feel like summer without a trip to the Kellerman resort, with this current touring production of Dirty Dancingproviding yet another brief vacation during its stop in Dartford.

The premise is simple and well known. But with the stunning choreography and toe-tapping soundtrack, it is hard not to be swept away by the free-spirited dance revolution that this timeless story delivers.

Michael O’Reilly has the unenviable task of taking on Patrick Swayze’s iconic performance as Johnny Castle, and it is in the dance routines that O’Reilly shines. From start to finish, this is a commanding display of a number of routines from ballroom to Latin, and it is evident that it is with his feet that O’Reilly feels most assured in this production in what is his professional debut.

Kira Malou’s Baby is presented with the required fragility and innocence that made the role so memorable. Malou’s strength is in her physical work, demonstrating a clear skill with dance choreography, but also successfully converting dance into comedy, particularly during Baby and Johnny’s training montages. It is, however, a shame that at times the sizzling passion both characters develop for each other rarely comes to the boil, which does impact some of the production’s more unforgettable moments.

There are also strong performances from Colin Charles (Tito Suarez) and Simone Covele (Penny Johnson), both of whom drive the production’s gentler moments. It is with great care that Covele presents Penny’s battles with her unwanted pregnancy, while Charles’ poignant speech about the dangers of the Deep South among the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement strikes an excellent chord during the first half.

It is a piece supported by a strong ensemble cast, and what is clear is that the sense of camaraderie that illuminates from the stage. The sensuous Cuban rhythms that underpin Gillian Bruce’s raunchy dance routines of both acts are executed brilliantly, and perfectly contrast the innocent aura of the Kellerman resort. There are excellent vocal performances, especially from the versatile Alex Wheeler, whose performance of In the Still of the Nightis one of the second half’s highlights.

Dirty Dancingis refreshing in its approach to touring productions, using a rotating stage and several different techniques to make this feel as cinematic as possible. The set design, by Roberto Comotti, is swiftly altered and manipulated to suit scenes and choreography but is not used sparingly. The combination of physical set design, as well as projection, works well, particularly during some of the more problematic moments, such as Johnny and Baby’s antics in the water in Act 1, but at times the use of projections feels too much and detract from the events and tone of the piece.

In essence, this is a fine touring production, with enough heart and rhythm to keep patrons happy and warm as the cold nights draw in. Dirty Dancingcontinues to be a successful production and there are plenty of signs saying the audiences certainly have hungry eyes for more.

Runs until 6 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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