Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Music Supervisor: Conrad Helfrich
Director: Federico Bellone
Choreographer: Gillian Bruce
Reviewer: Sue Collier
Dirty Dancing is set in the summer of 1963, an era of great American social change. This is the time of President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. It is also a time when a woman’s reputation still strongly depends on male approval.
The Houseman family take their summer holiday at Kellerman’s hotel in the Catskill Mountains. It is an activity holiday and much amusement is gained through observing and remembering the old-fashioned pastimes on offer. While her parents enjoy playing golf and sister Lisa enjoys the attention of a handsome waiter, Baby Kellerman learns to dance and falls in love with handsome dance teacher Johnny Castle.
The stage show is based on the acclaimed film of the same name. Its writer, Eleanor Bergstein has developed her original film story into a much wider yet more intimate view of life in 1963. This is an exciting production using a variety of imaginative techniques to change the scenery, mood and lighting. The use of film techniques, for example during the log scene and the hand beckoning Baby towards her future, is superbly exciting.
There is constantly lots going on in this production. The stars of the show are definitely Katie Hartland in the role of Baby, drop dead gorgeous Lewis Griffiths as Johnny Castle and the gloriously beautiful dancing of Carlie Milner who plays Johnny’s dance partner Penny Johnson. However, the entire cast offers an incredibly strong performance and it is difficult to find fault. There are also strongly believable portrayals of relationships between the older members of the cast. In particular Julian Harries and Simone Craddock as Baby’s parents Jake and Marjorie Houseman offer very tender moments of quality song and dance.
Gillian Bruce’s intended use of choreography to portray what is going on for each individual on stage is effectively creative. Yet the exciting unison dancing within the finale scene does leave one wishing that there had been rather more of this element throughout the show.
We have romance, good music and high quality dancing all wrapped up in a wonderful set and quality costumes of the period. Rather than being a musical in which the main characters sing, the songs and quality live music are provided by members of the Kellermans Band. While the Dirty Dancing original soundtrack album has sold over 44 million copies to date, for this stage production Bergstein has also included a number of songs which she originally failed to obtain for the movie. There are favourites of course, most notably of which is I’ve Had the Time of My Life during which the audience are enthralled by the exciting dancing as the story reaches its climax.
There is a strong element of warm humour throughout. Lizzie Ottley is hilarious as the dippy Lisa Houseman and particularly so While dancing awkwardly and singing out of key. When Baby asks Johnny, “How many women have you had?” The audience gasps at his response and laughs at their own.
All ends well. We see the girl get her guy after overcoming parental prejudice and disapproval. The dancing is spectacular. The audience absolutely loved this production. A great evening’s entertainment and highly recommended.
Touring Nationwide | Image: Contributed