Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Choreographer: Gillian Bruce
Reviewer: Dan English
It is the summer of 63 at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as the sizzling Dirty Dancing musical reaches north Kent on its UK Tour.
Set among the backdrop of an innocent America, the raw passion that is bubbling in the USA at the time comes to the foreground in this seductive production.
Baby (Katie Hartland) and Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) are from different walks of life; Baby the daughter of a doctor and with aspirations of joining the Peace Corps, whereas Johnny is a dance instructor relying on his hips to stay alive. Thrown together after Johnny’s dance partner falls pregnant, the pair rehearse explosive routines as their connection grows stronger as this musical explores the shift from conservative to a younger, impulsive, America.
All productions rely on the chemistry between Baby and Johnny, with this being no exception. Hartland’s Baby demonstrates the change from fresh-faced innocent to daddy-defier remarkably, while also showing great skill in acting the useless dancer, despite being very accomplished. Griffiths does well to show Johnny’s more sensitive side, particularly in his latter interaction with Baby, as well as keep the machismo oozing throughout the performance. The chemistry between the pair is sizzling and as it builds up to the grand finale, almost every movement the pair made resulted in a raucous reception from the appreciative audience. It is remarkable just how well the pair capture Baby and Johnny’s raw passion for each other, both on and off the dance floor.
There should also be mentions for Julian Harries and Simone Craddock as Baby’s stuffy parents, Dr. Jake and Marjorie Houseman respectively, as well as the fantastic Lizzie Ottley, whose Hula routine as dizzy Lisa Houseman remains one of the show’s comedic high points. Jo Servi’s Tito Suarez also serves as a bridge between the dialogue and the music in this production, with it being a role he executes well.
Gillian Bruce’s sensuous and show-stopping choreography blends old with new throughout the production, and links nicely between tradition and careful America to the blossoming passionate youthful America craving to come out. Bruce’s choreography is raw, it is explosive but it is also executed perfectly by the show’s talented cast, with not a single foot put wrong across the entire show.
Much like the film and the dozens of productions that have come before it, the show’s toe-tapping soundtrack enhances the passions and emotions that emanate from the plot. Classics such as The Time Of My Life guarantee an audience response, yet it is the band’s tangos that and the grittier instrumentals that give this show it’s raunchy flavour. This particular production combines elements from a number of adaptations, with the live band being complimented by recordings. It is odd to hear the switching between the two in this production and while it is admirable to venture with both, one would perhaps prefer a decision to either go with an orchestra or a recording, rather than a sprinkling of both.
Roberto Comotti’s set design brings a West End lavishness to this touring production. The bright Kellerman resort, full of innocent inducing colours, contrasts perfectly to the darker, seductive setting of the staff quarters where Baby and Johnny rehearse their routines. Comotti’s set is adaptable, ensuring slick, swift changes between scenes that help keep the pace across the production. It is particularly impressive that the set successfully captures the more challenging sequences, such as Baby and Johnny’s lift rehearsing in a lack, with effective ease. It might be the acting and soundtrack that dominate this production, but this would be weakened with a lesser set.
There is no doubt that this is a deductive, scintillating production that fires passion from the stage from the very first moment. Encapsulating the film well, this show does well through its casting and its design to add its own imprint into the Dirty Dancing fabric and is another successful, and uplifting, reboot of the long-running production.
Runs until 10 September 2016 and tours | Image: Dreamteam Pics