Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Choreographer: Gillian Bruce
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Dirty Dancing, the hip gyrating classic of the eighties is yet another adaptation to transfer from the silver screen to the theatrical stage. With a successful run in the West End and an already fiercely loyal fan base, is there enough content within this touring production to tide over the audience until the infamous lift?
Francis ‘Baby’ Houseman is the apple of her father’s eye. That is of course until she encounters the bad boy with a heart of gold, Johnny Castle. After the thinnest excuse for a plot imaginable, Baby ends up in Johnny’s arms, filling in for pregnant dancer Penny.
While the original Dirty Dancing may not have had much in the way of plot, its soundtrack and performances rocketed it from the realms of guilty pleasure into one of the most quoted films of all time. The remainder of the production, however, is two hours of padding until we get to the cherished line ‘nobody puts Baby in the corner’. There’s flesh, there’s flash, and there’s filler… a lot of filler.
Dancing: It’s in the title, so it must be important right? Well, this is where Dirty Dancing 100% makes up for its shortcomings. Specifically, Carlie Milner as Penny. Her dancing and command of the stage is mesmeric, fluid yet still precise. Her sequences with Lewis Griffiths (Johnny Castle) display a stronger passion than those with ‘Baby’ Katie Eccles. That isn’t to say chemistry’s lacking between Griffiths and Eccles, just that it never truly becomes a burning connection. Gillian Bruce’s choreography is clever, strikingly reminiscent of the original movie source and even manages a few laughs.
Breaking up the choreographed segments are light-hearted moments of comic relief. However, the majority of ‘gags’ feel straight out of 1963 – far too obviously watered down or just not humorous enough to offset any intended tension. Some lines are delivered with a laugh, and there’s plenty of room for physical humour, but there’s a sense of trying too hard.
Roberto Comotti’s set design also goes beyond necessity. Yes, it is strikingly well made, it spins, turns and reveals new locations, but it all seems a tad too much. It may well convey the sense of movement the production wishes to display, but shouldn’t that be the dancer’s intent?
Finally, mention must be made of the vocals. In a production of Dirty Dancing, one usually doesn’t expect such intense vocal segments, but Sophia Mackay performs a few of the set pieces from the soundtrack, all of them top class.
When Dirty Dancing works, it soars – superb choreography combined with an unforgettable soundtrack. When it slumps, it slumps into the doldrums. Long periods of padding, draw out both acts, but when it finds familiar footing it doesn’t miss a beat.
Runs until 17 June 2017 | Image: Contributed