Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Music Supervisor: Conrad Helfrich
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Everyone associates Dirty Dancing with the 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey; many certainly consider it as ‘the classic story’, with the stage production making its debut in 2004. Dirty Dancing is currently embarking on a new national 2016/17 Tour.
It’s the summer of 1963, and the Houseman family are spending their summer vacation at the Kellerman’s hotel at Catskill Mountains Resort. At this time, it was common for many New Yorkers (and other city dwellers) to spend their summer vacation in such resorts, participate in the entertainment, and associate those who are similar to them – middle/upper-class families with conservative values.
This was a time when everything seemed so innocent; many were able to finally begin living the ‘American Dream’. The same summer was also the beginning of massive change; President John F. Kennedy pursuing the Civil Rights Bill and Martin Luther King Jr. having had then delivered his landmark speech, I have a Dream which began changing America’s cultural, political and social landscape forever.
The family have opportunities to enjoy their favourite activities on the resort and Baby Houseman (Katie Eccles), the youngest daughter, discovers dancing at an all-night staff party, and falls in love with the handsome dancing instructor, Johnny Castle (Lewis Griffiths). The contrasting taste of entertainment the guests are offered at the resort, particularly the music and provocative dancing, highlight the worlds which Baby and Johnny came from. Their upbringings could not be more different and such differences brought its initial prejudices and disapprovals particularly from Baby’s father, Dr Jake Houseman (Julian Harries).
No one needs to be introduced to the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack; everyone is familiar with the musical numbers including Hungry Eyes, I’ve Had The Time of My Life and She’s Like The Wind; the different genres of music representing a kaleidoscope of social changes in the sixties. The numbers go down well with the audience and balance the story, told by Eleanor Bergstein. Gillian Bruce’s choreography in the hands (and feet) of the talented cast is slick, energetic and flexible; perfectly complementing the music and songs.
Griffiths and Eccles work excellently together; their acting and intimate and intricate dance acts are memorable, particularly during the finale I’ve Had The Time of My Life. Strong creative staging, courtesy of Roberto Comotti, Valerio Tiberi and Armando Vertullo sets the scene, especially the clever use of visuals screens alongside a balanced use of technology, lighting and soundscapes. The lake scene is remarkable, when Johnny and Baby intimately practice lifts in the “water”, as is another practise session where they balance on a tree log.
With a story adapted from the classic film and an award winning soundtrack, Dirty Dancing guarantees a theatre goer a time of their life. The eager audience rapturously receives the performance throughout, but particularly during the spectacular finale and encore. Bellone ensures a fresh production with creativity and innovation strongly delivered by the cast and creative team.
Touring nationwide | Image: Alastair Muir