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Review of Dirty Dancing at Piccadilly Theatre

Dirty DancingMy guilty secret is that ‘Dirty Dancing‘ is my favourite film of all time, which is why I have always avoided seeing the musical – I was convinced it would spoil the film’s perfection for me. I have to say, this was not the case. The musical sticks strictly to the film, with most lines lifted directly from the film’s script, the characters looking almost identical, and the film set cleverly re-created through projection screens, which add a great deal of space and depth to the stage. Even down to the costumes, the film really is brought to life on stage, and the iconic choreography has not been changed – the final dance is beautifully intact to the last detail, the familiarity of which raised a huge roar from the enthusiastic audience.  It was quite special seeing that choreography performed live by the phenomenal dancers, who were thrilling to watch throughout, particularly Charlotte Gooch as Penny, whose performance was stunning.

Paul-Michael Jones as Johnny caused a disappointing shaking of heads between me and my friend upon his first appearance, as on first impression he simply wasn’t Patrick Swayze (to be fair, I don’t envy anyone trying to step into those shoes!), but he did quickly grow on us once we saw his superb dance skills. Although he did eventually seem to look the part, vocally he never really fitted the bill, with rather a high-pitched tone, and when matched with Jill Winternitz as Baby’s overly mature, confident vocal tone, the partnership had a slightly different dynamic to the pairing we’re used to.

In this vein, whilst the dancing was superb, I felt the acting from these principals was a little superficial, and I found myself filling in the gaps of how I was supposed to feel about them from my knowledge of the characters and storyline, as I didn’t feel I got below the surface of the characters from their performance. Add to this the fact that Baby’s lines were delivered at such speed that it seemed impossible to believe that the character could have had time to think the thought before speaking the words, I was left wishing I was being taken on the familiar journey more deeply.

My final gripe with the show was the fact that so little of it is sung live – to me a vital component of a musical. For most of the familiar musical numbers, we were hearing the actual film soundtrack played, with a small selection of numbers sung live by vocalists on standing microphones, almost extrinsic to the scene. The principal characters do not sing at all – a fact I suppose is inevitable considering the characters in the film do not sing – however I did wonder why I was hearing the soundtrack for so many numbers.

All that being said, despite myself I did enjoy the evening. Contrary to my expectations, I really did enjoy seeing my long-standing favourite film brought to life before my eyes, and there were lots of clever ways of bringing the familiar elements to the stage – you see the lake, the buildings, the fallen tree, everything. The famous ‘lift’ scene in the water provoked uproarious laughter from the audience, and although it did look rather hilarious, I’m not sure how else they could have done that scene live.

If you love the film and want to see some spectacular dancing, you won’t leave disappointed. I’m glad I’ve finally seen it.

Nikki Laurence @NikkiLaurenceMD

Piccadilly Theatre
16 Denman Street
London W1V 8DY

Wednesday 17th July 2013

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