MusicalReviewSouth East

Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on stage— Theatre Royal, Brighton

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein

Director: Russ Spencer

Reviewer: Simon Topping 

Dirty Dancing is one of those 1980’s iconic films everyone has seen by the time they reach their teens, even though, upon intense questioning, some would deny it. Judging by the diversity of the Brighton audience, the classic coming-of-age tale appears to appeal to all generations, captivating the young just as much of those who remember the original film from 1987.  

We all know the story, even if you are one of the few to pretend not to: It is 1963 and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Kira Malou) is on a family holiday with her parents and sister at the Kellerman’s resort. The resort is an old-fashioned place and at odds with the changing times of Motown, Rock and Roll and progression within the civil rights movement. Enter energetic, edgy and sexy dance instructor Johnny Castle (Michael O’Reilly) with is modern style and dangerous moves and the scene is set for sparks to fly, innocence to be lost and love to ensue.

This adaptation sticks loyally to the film script. We are taken through the movie almost scene by scene as it thrusts forth all the hit moments; the log walking scene scored with Hey! Baby, practicing the lift in the lake (which is done with great humour), carrying watermelons and many more. There are several fast paced montages to make sure the production misses nothing out.

The revolving scenery, designed by Andrea Comotti, has been fabulously crafted to place us both in the centre of the resort and behind the scenes in the raunchy staff quarters where all kinds of shenanigans take place, and the moments where project overlays are used are also well done and add to the sumptuousness of the look and feel of the piece.

The onstage band, lead by Colin Charles, playing Tito Suarez, are a real treat too. They bring a joy to the show with there vibrancy and enthusiasm. Some stand out numbers are performed by Alex Wheeler (playing Billy Kostecki) and Sian Gentle-Green (play Elizabeth).

With Strictly in full bloom at this time of year, the auditorium comes to life the most when group dance is on display. The fabulous feats of dancing are amazingly adept and Simone Covele (as Penny Johnson) particularly shines. The amazing contortions and spins she performs are mind-boggling.

Where this performance lacks is in the clunky dialogue and relationships between the characters. Malou gives a wonderful clowning performance, as does Lizzie Ottley as her sister Lisa but Malou and O’Reilly have little on-stage chemistry. O’Reilly’s character appears to be there to provide the audience with eye candy, which he does well; wolf whistles and cheers break out as provides the gathering with several Poldark style, shirt off, moments and one glance at a bare bottom. Other than that he is not given much he can get his teeth into and sadly does not have the charisma of Swayze to draw the crowd into the story. With Johnny often shouting and posturing, rather than using emotion it’s hard to believe how Baby ever falls in love with the boarish bloke.

Sticking so closely to the film straight-jackets the stage production. It would be nice to see this updated, perhaps in a more tongue in cheek and feminist way. It does not sit well that the main female protagonist seeks approval form all the men around her to make herself valid. That being said, if you are a devotee of the film and are looking for some mild escapism this will serve you well. The dancing and music are wonderful and the denouement that the audience are all waiting for does not disappoint.

Running until 29 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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