Seeing the Dominion Theatre bathed in a pink glow should offer a good indication of the evening ahead. And if you are a fan of the film, I can say with confidence you will not leave disappointed. Whilst a lot of this is no doubt down to wine-drunk nostalgia, that does not detract from the levels of talent so clearly on display at Dirty Dancing. It is therefore a shame that that talent takes a backseat when compared to the soundtrack, the all too recognisable film scenes and the dialled up sex appeal.
For those unfamiliar with the film, Dirty Dancing is a loyal follower of the classic romantic sentiment that opposites attract. Set on Kellerman’s Mountain House holiday resort, Baby Houseman (played by Kira Malou) and her affluent family settle in for a summer of talent contests, golf and dancing lessons – the 1960s dream! We are drawn into a world where the staff mingle with the guests; a world where friendships are strong but not as strong as the affairs, the misconceptions and the underlying judgment. Baby is the exception to this rule. By doing Penny (Carlie Milner), the lead female dancer, a self-less favour, Baby begins dance lessons with heart-throb Johnny (Michael O’Reilly) to perform an upcoming routine in her place. This decision sparks an unexpected romance, creating a divide in the Houseman family.
On screen, it becomes easy to forget that Dirty Dancing is first and foremost about dance. In fact, the infamous lift is often recounted as the only memorable dance sequence. Seeing this on stage is, in my opinion, exactly where it should be. Nothing packs more of a punch, both emotionally and visually, than watching live dancers completely absorb the music, stage and audience. It is palpably sultry and, with charming storytelling, amusing to see them then tone down their style to teach the resort guests the waltz. Michael O’Reilly (Johnny) and Carlie Milner (Penny) are particularly incredible in their performance, establishing themselves as true masters of their art.
Where this production falls down is in the details of its delivery. Act 1 rattles through the story, one high-tempo routine after another, until it screams to a halt for the interval. Starting back up, we then lollop onwards with an anticlimactic shift to dialogue and film recreation. Occasionally, and with no relevance to the story, a soloist bursts on the stage to belt out a transition number before then returning to the narrative. The finish is in need of a little tightening and requires further balancing of its high and low impact moments. At present, it feels as though Dirty Dancing is riding its reputation and the moments of originality have been introduced without much consideration.
That being said, Kira Malou is enchanting in her character and effortlessly infuses a comic thread to the show. Her stage rapport with Michael O’Reilly is similarly wonderful, but their relationship is left a tad unbelievable – likely due to the decision to make O’Reilly the sex object of the night. As a consequence, this distracts from the relationship development on stage and also undermines O’Reilly’s moments of sincerity.
Which leads me on to one final thought. The production is a good one and, to repeat, I would recommend to any Dirty Dancing lover to catch this whilst you still can. My experience on the evening was however tarnished by the atmosphere: the audience were on their feet, shouting along to the lyrics, filming numbers etc. A gala night is a wonderful evening, but it is my genuine belief that many there last night would have been just as happy if the film had been projected on stage instead.
All in all, this is a vibrant bringing to life of a classic story. In its truth to the film, this production does suffer in originality, but it more than makes up for it in its party factor.
- By Eleanor Bergstein
- Directed by Federico Bellone
- Choreographed by Austin Wilks
- Produced by Karl Sydow, in association with Lionsgate and Triple A Entertainment Group
- Cast includes: Kira Malou, Michael O’Reilly, Carlie Milner, Colin Charles, Lynden Edwards, Mark Faith, Thomas Sutcliffe and Lizzie Ottley
- Dominion Theatre
- Until 16th April
- Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes (including interval)