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New Theatre, Oxford

The material is not to everyone’s taste, so stay away if you hated the film. But interestingly, this was not an exact clone of the movie (though pretty damn near it) and there were some interesting additions to the script to emphasize what was going on in 1963, mainly by way of the civil rights upheavals.

Photo: Alastair Muir

The production itself is slickly designed and cleverly choreographed. The audience spent a great deal of the time in a state of clear delight and applause. If this is your kind of material, you won’t be disappointed, and you might even rethink a couple of things about the story. Kira Malou, playing “Baby” does a grand job and is dressed and wigged up to remind one of Jennifer Grey (who should not have had that nose job after her success in the film – it changed an interesting face into one that was conventional and anodyne).

Simone Covele is a striking Penny, Colin Charles a warm Tito; and Lynden Edwards and Lori Haley Fox do a striking job as Baby’s parents. Also memorable is Mark Faith’s turn as Mr Schumacher. I also have to praise Lizzie Ottley, Alex Wheeler, Greg Fossard and Mark Faith in their respective roles. It is a strong cast and the various characters are clearly defined. Full praise, then, to the director,  Federico Bellone. But ultimately it is the retro music and the dancing that justify the cost of your ticket as much as anything – and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny Castle. He is young, he is making his professional debut; he had moments of awkwardness in his acting and also complete control and delight in his dancing. Above all he definitely has star quality. He is very good looking and a lot of the young women in the audience ooh-ed and ahh-ed and applauded wildly for him, especially at certain moments when he took off his shirt. (There are other instances but I would not wish to spoil the surprises.) His romance with Kira Malou was played extremely convincingly by them both. Best of all, he is not a clone of Patrick Swayze in any way, nor does he need to be. The role is interpreted and built around his own personality and talents. He is young, sexy, gifted – and clearly has a fine career ahead of him.

Photo: Alastair Muir

Meantime, catch Dirty Dancing on tour near you if you can and see for yourself? I might give it only three stars as actual material; but for realisation, production and a fine cast, I have to give it four!

  • Musical
  • By Eleanor Bergstein
  • Directed by Federico Bellone
  • Choreographed by Gillian Bruce
  • Cast includes: Kira Malou, Michael O’Reilly, Simone Covele, Colin Charles, Lynden Edwards, Mark Faith, Lori Haley Fox
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • Until 8th of December, before going on tour.

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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