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Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage

Did you know, that the line “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner.” was voted as the #98 all-time favourite movie quote by the American Film Institute? I only mention this because last night I was at London’s Dominion Theatre to see the musical version of the original movie from where the quote originates – Dirty Dancing.

The ensemble of Dirty Dancing (c) Mark Senior.
The ensemble of Dirty Dancing (c) Mark Senior.

It’s the summer of 1963 and Dr Jake Houseman (Lynden Edwards) along with his family, wife Marjorie (Jackie Morrison) along with daughters Lisa (Georgina Castle) and Frances – known as ‘Baby’ – (Kira Malou) are heading to New York’s Catskill Mountains to stay at Kellerman’s. For those in the know, this resort run by Max (Michael Remick) and his grandson Neil (Alastair Crosswell) is the place to be. Whatever the weather, there’s always something to do at Kellerman’s. Your food is served by Ivy League students like the handsome Robbie (Callum Fitzgerald) and there is music aplenty with Tito Suarez (Colin Charles) and his band. And then, there is dancing with resident dance professionals Johnny Castle (Michael O’Reilly) and Penny Johnson (Charlotte Gooch) providing lessons and exhibition dances to wow and entertain the guests. Everything at Kellerman’s is perfect on the surface, but as in all successful hotels and resorts, there is much going on beneath the surface. As the young idealistic Baby Houseman finds out when she steps behind the curtain and faces the reality of life for those not as fortunate as herself.

I first saw Dirty Dancing at the Aldwych Theatre back in 2006 and really, really didn’t like it. At the time, I wasn’t reviewing but if I had been then my review would have been scathing in the extreme. So, when invited to see the show again, I approached it with no small amount of trepidation. And wow, was I blown away by the whole night. The show is fab-u-lous in every way.

The production brings writer Eleanor Bergstein’s story to life beautifully and Roberto Comotti’s very white set is detailed enough to create the various locales required but minimalistic enough to leave a lot of space for Austin Wilks’ energetic and stunning choreography. Having a live band, under supervising musical director Richard John, and live singers blended with recorded songs from the era works spectacularly and adds to the atmosphere as we follow Johnny and Baby’s story.

So, it looks good and sounds good but for Dirty Dancing to work, there has to be real chemistry between the two leads and Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly really have it. Malou looks perfect as the sweet, naïve ‘Baby’ – great work by Costume Designer Jennifer Irwin – who grows considerably over the run. I’m also going to praise her “bad” dancing. When you are obviously a really good dancer, it must be very difficult to dance badly in a believable manner, but Malou really pulls it off. Michael O’Reilly is perfect as the working-class boy, plagued by internal insecurities hidden by a perfect – and I do mean perfect – body. Quite a few of the audience had a fit of the vapours when O’Reilly first swaggered onto the stage and the first time he took his shirt off, well you can imagine the reaction. However, O’Reilly is not just a body, he is a truly gifted dancer who you could really believe would be able to take a novice like ‘Baby’ and put her onto a professional stage in just a few days. When the pair of them dance together – particularly the iconic final number – they look like a couple that have been together for decades. Who know and can anticipate each other’s moves instinctively, and who will remain together forever until they are dancing through the pearly gates to the great performing space in the sky. While mentioning dancing, let’s not forget Charlotte Gooch as Penny. Another fantastic dancer and actress, Gooch gives Penny real depth as we see, right from the start, that beneath the sass and big smile, there are problems with her.

There are no weak links in the cast, even the older members display some pretty nifty footwork at times, and the 2 hours 10 minutes runtime flew by. The show is cheesy in places – just like the movie – and has all the elements that a dedicated audience need – you should hear the roar when ‘that’ line is spoken – including the fallen tree and lift in the water scenes, but it was also its own beast, able to be viewed away from the movie. Dirty Dancing was exciting, exhilarating and entertaining, with nothing to fault it. Even the (now obligatory) stand-up and dance number after the curtain call didn’t irritate me as much as it normally does. As we left the theatre, my companion Hele and I agreed that Dirty Dancing really was an excellent show and that we had both had the time of our lives.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Exploding with heart-pounding music, breathtaking emotion and sensationally sexy dancing, this triumphant stage production, inspired by the hit film, follows the iconic story of Baby and Johnny, two fiercely independent young spirits from different worlds who come together in what will be the most challenging and thrilling summer of their lives.

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage
announces return to the West End
Dominion Theatre, London
Saturday 21st January – Saturday 29th April 2023

Dirty Dancing is at New Theatre Oxford from Tuesday 25th July, 2023 to Saturday 29th July, 2023

Dirty Dancing is at King’s Theatre, Glasgow from Tuesday 24th October, 2023 to Saturday 28th October, 2023.

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