As the film celebrates its 30th anniversary, this brand new UK touring production brings the energy if not quite the characters to life in a new way to experience this coming of age story.
If there is a film that will cheer any girl up it is Dirty Dancing. The dancing, the love story between Johnny Castle and Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman as well as a classic soundtrack that ensures the energy levels remain high. Now with Federico Bellone’s production, fans of the film get to experience it in a new way.
Set across the Summer of 1963, Dirty Dancing is a proper coming of age story, as Baby comes to terms with the struggles of growing up as well as discovering a new love of dance in the process with the help of dance instructor Johnny Castle she soon discovers there is more to the world than she thought.
The main trouble with bringing such an iconic film such as this to the stage is expectations are considerably high in production quality. Bellone’s production delivers on energy and passion, but it feels as though it is lacking in strong characterisations to keep the audience engaged.
This is in part down to the lack of a lot of dialogue (as well as much being taken from the original film) that would give better understanding of the character’s background and the scene changes which feel slightly clunky in places, emphasising the lack of space on stage. Vocals and dialogue are occasionally overpowered by the music, with the sound being at times louder than necessary to little effect.
However, there are still plenty of things to enjoy about this production, not least Gillian Bruce’s choreography which is sharp, sexy and sultry to watch and perfectly executed by the cast. It is also a show that is confident throughout, featuring some strong vocal performances from the likes of Sophia MacKay and Michael Kent.
The addition of the campfire scene and the moment in which Marjorie Houseman finds out about Penny’s abortion adds a bit more context and depth to the story, revealing much about society’s attitude to the darker elements of life.
It is also an extremely imaginative production, with Roberto Comotti’s elaborate set design effectively showcasing a number of different scenes, just lacking slightly in space to do it full justice.
Performance wise, Lewis Griffith’s makes for a charismatic Johnny Castle with elegant dance moves thrown in, while he is amply matched by Katie Eccles as Baby – who could perhaps do with slightly more feistiness in delivering her lines, particularly during the scene in which she visits Johnny’s cabin for the first time. But she does have a charm about her that is lovely to watch. Together, the chemistry is strong and believable.
Elsewhere, Carlie Milner impresses as the vulnerable Penny and Lizzie Ottley delivers a hilarious performance as Lisa – slightly over the top but never getting carried away (just watch her performing Lisa’s Hula!).
Overall, the scene changes and the characterisations could be stronger, but this is still an entertaining show that is filled with energy and wonderful dancing.