Based on the much-adored 1987 movie, the 2006 musical theatre version of Dirty Dancing was the fastest-selling show in West End history, with advanced sales of a staggering £15 million. And its popularity shows no sign of abating, despite an atrocious 2017 TV movie remake.
This revamped version (new sets and songs from the movie not originally in the stage musical) from director Federico Bellone, choreographer Gillian Bruce and designer Roberto Cometti, is currently playing to packed houses up and down the UK.
Almost entirely lifted scene for scene from the movie: It’s 1963, Camp Kellerman, an upscale Catskill resort. On the surface, it’s playing Simon Says, horseshoe tossing, tennis lessons and singing around the campfire. Behind the scenes though, the staff are having a rather raunchier time. When shy, middle-class teen Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman stumbles on this parallel world and charismatic bad boy Johnny Castle, a whole new world opens for her.
While themes of racism (there’s a rendition of We Shall Overcome, mentions of Freedom Riders, and a snippet of Dr Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech), abortion and classism are touched upon, they are delivered with a great big dose of sugary schmaltz. The overwhelming feeling is celebratory, it certainly honours the memory of the movie and those oh so quotable lines and pounding early 60s hits are all here.
Roberto Cometti’s set is certainly head and shoulders above recent tours, which were laden with back projections, as well as being visually pleasing it is inventive, and the scenes change with an admirable fluidity. It laudably evokes the feeling of a 1960s country retreat.
Lewis Griffiths is charismatic and supremely polished as the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Johnny, and there’s a tangible chemistry between Katie Eccles’ Baby and himself. Carly Milner provides strong support as Penny.
Federico Bellone has certainly breathed new life into the old dog and returns it to the rawer movie original. The supporting cast of players are grittier and sexier than before and the set and lighting design, especially in key scenes, now fully enhances the action. The only gripe would be the unevenness of the two acts, the first rattles at breakneck speed through the plot and the second gets to the point where it outstays its welcome. That said, this was never intended to break new ground. Shakespeare, it ain’t. Instead it’s good, old-fashioned, escapist fun and if the ecstatic reaction of the audience is anything to go by, Dirty Dancing will continue to run and run.
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here