There’s always a risk when it comes to putting a beloved and iconic film on stage. Not only are there questions as to whether the adaptation should mirror the movie completely, but there’s also issues related to accurate character portrayal, use of original music and recreating classic scenes. The 1987 romance, Dirty Dancing, has been seen by millions around the world. ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ has become a part of popular culture, and the ‘lift’ sequence has been played out in films and TV programmes such as ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ (2011), ‘Heartbreaker’ (2010) and even ‘Coronation Street’ in 2018. So there was always going to be high expectations and anticipation as to how to show would tribute the movie. Luckily for theatre-goers, it both honours the film and lends to a fantastic night out.
After the curtain raised, the memorable soundtrack quickly set in. The first number of the night was ‘Be My Baby’, which instantly reminded audience of how good the film’s music is. Not that we could forget. It swiftly moves on to encompass all the classics ‘Do You Love Me’, ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘She’s Like the Wind’, ‘Love is Strange’, ‘Hey! Baby’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’. A woman sat next to me was clearly impassioned, singing emphatically to all of them.
The score also featured plenty of other songs too, beautifully sung by the cast. In particular, Alex Wheeler’s solo for ‘In the Still of the Night’ illustrated the actor’s incredible range and ability to hold a note for a long time. And Lizzie Ottley’s rendition of ‘Lisa’s Hula’ stole the show for laughs. She masterfully performed the song with squeaky vocals and wild dance moves, bringing her character to the limelight.
Though ‘Baby’ and ‘Johnny’, played by Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly, didn’t sing much, their characterisation was brilliant. Malou gave innocence and unexpected humour to Baby, shown through her anxious dance moves. At times, she also sounded exactly like Jennifer Grey. However, O’Reilly’s ability to honour the late Patrick Swayze was even more admirable. His swagger and muscular physique (and flashing the audience) drew plenty of whistles from the ladies at the Palace theatre. And his dance scenes – particularly with Simone Covele who played ‘Penny’ – were seductively brilliant. Covele and O’Reilly stunned audiences straight away as they tangoed and waltzed and showed off incredible acrobatic abilities. Genuine gasps and lots of clapping came from theatre-goers – an authentic credit to the show’s choreography.
Other memorable performances include the dweeby ‘Neil Kellerman’ immaculately played by Greg Fossard, and ‘Baby’s’ parents portrayed by Lynden Edwards and Lori Haley Fox. Wavering from the film slightly, the musical brought extra depth and humour to ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs Houseman’.
But this Dirty Dancing review wouldn’t be complete without applauding the set design team. The innovative use of screens and layering for the practising of the lift in the water and driving scene were incredibly effective. The transitioning between sets and the dramatic lighting used during the thunderstorm were impressive. Above all, the show felt dynamic, energetic and constantly alive.
In review, the stage show of Dirty Dancing was very satisfying. It included all the notable moments of the film, from ‘Baby’ and ‘Johnny’s’ miming of Mickey and Sylvia (shown above) to ‘Penny’, ‘Baby’ and ‘Johnny’ dancing together with ‘Hungry Eyes’ in the background. Classic lines were also drawn from the movie, but there was enough variation and minor alterations to bring something new. There’s little to fault about the production, and ultimately fans of the 80’s classic definitely won’t be disappointed.