REVIEW: Dirty Dancing, New Victoria Theatre

This new tour based on the beloved film blends the familiar dialogue, music and choreography with additional elements that keeps the story feeling fresh.

(c)Alastair Muir.

The film Dirty Dancing may have been released back in 1987 but its popularity with female audiences has lasted throughout the decades and now finds a new generation of fans thanks to this musical version that celebrates its source material.

Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is on holiday with her family at Kellerman’s resort, with little interest in any of the activities on offer – until she witnesses the staff having a dance party in their own quarters, complete with sexy dance moves that she instantly becomes mesmerised by – as well as by dance instructor Johnny Castle.

While essentially Dirty Dancing is a coming of age story, Federico Bellone’s production also reveals that Eleanor Bergstein’s story focuses on family and finding the courage to forge your own path in life that is inspirational to watch unfold. This is particularly seen as the audience sees how Johnny and Baby develop as individuals as well as together, building to the iconic final sequence.

Bellone’s tender and passionate production is filled with electrifying choreography by Gillian Bruce, which while incorporating many of the familiar moves of the film, also contains some nifty new moves that are beautiful to watch. Meanwhile, the choreography is shown off to full effect with the help of Jennifer Irwin’s colourful and classy costume designs (particularly during the more formal numbers) that dazzle.

Roberto Commotti’s set design ambitiously fills the stage with plenty of seamless scene changes – but can make movement on the stage feel slightly limited, particularly in terms of characters moving from one area of Kellerman’s resort to the next, which doesn’t feel particularly believable.

But despite this there is great energy and pace throughout that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged – particularly during the dance numbers such as the staff party that make you want to get up and be involved.

Performance wise, the two leads Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly as Baby and Johnny respectively have a simmering chemistry together that is wonderful to watch unfold, the highlight being when Baby makes a passionate declaration towards the end of the first act that sizzles perfectly. O’Reilly in particular brings a rawness to Johnny’s character that offers new insight into how low in self-esteem he is, highlighted when he confronts Baby about not telling her parents about him. Elsewhere, Simone Covele as Penny showcases her wonderful dancing with flair, while capturing her vulnerability in the wake of a horrific incident that makes the audience sit up and pay attention.

While the musical itself stays as faithful to the film (in particular retaining much of the familiar dialogue), it does offer up new insights into the story and characters that leave you with a new perspective of Dirty Dancing. But it is also still a sexy and passionate musical that will sweep you back to 1963 effortlessly.

By Emma Clarendon

Dirty Dancing continues to play at the New Victoria Theatre until the 23rd March before continuing to tour.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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