Maria Forryan rates this stage production of Dirty Dancing ‘Better than the film. Quite literally…the time of your life’.
I’ve seen a quite a few shows recently that have been adapted from well-known films. Each time I have the same doubt about whether the show will simply disappoint just because it doesn’t quite live up to the big screen version.
The more popular the film, the more difficult it is to get it right. And they don’t get much bigger or more iconic than ‘Dirty Dancing’.
Yet sometimes, shows just hit it spot on. They have the right energy, the right direction, a fast pace and a clear sense of style. And this is most definitely one of those shows! In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’m tempted to go and see it again this weekend and have all my friends who loved the film go and see it with me…
For those few who don’t know the story, ‘Dirty Dancing’ was originally brought to the big screen in 1987 but was set in the swinging 60’s in a high-end holiday resort in the summer of 1963, when dirty dancing was emerging and politics were changing. It’s a coming-of-age story where two passionate youths on different ends of the social scale are brought together through their love of dancing, and prove that the status-quo really can be changed.
What the show got right was that it stuck faithfully to the film. The key lines, the key moments, the key dance moves were all there, and were greeted with excited cheers each time from the audience. From the first syncopated, instantly recognisable drum beat solo from ‘Be My Baby’ I felt a thrill of excitement, whilst the whole audience came to life and this energy never left.
Cheesy musicals are not usually my theatre of choice, but this had surprisingly more depth to it: a brilliant storyline, great music and spectacular dancing. It was a relief that the lead couple Johnny & Baby didn’t suddenly break into song. Rather, all the singing was predominantly left to the characters of Billy & Elizabeth, performed by the highly talented Alex Wheeler and Sian Gentle-Green, their power and perfect pitch carrying the popular tunes. Listen out especially for Billy’s ridiculously long and high-pitched note…it’s incredible! The songs are also a clever mixture of live music and original recordings, meaning the acting scenes aren’t overshadowed by a loud band.
Speaking of the band, it would be wrong to carry on without mentioning the four piece Kellerman’s Band who perform all the live music flawlessly in the middle of the stage, with some excellent acting too I might add. With a show so focused around the music it was brilliant to see the extraordinarily talented musicians holding a prominent place, with them all coming forward and performing virtuosic solos at various points. Please ensure you stay back at the end to listen to their final bow once the cast members have left – they fully deserve a standing ovation.
The dancing was, as you would hope to imagine, fantastic. I would have perhaps like to have seen the sections in the staff quarters a little ‘dirtier’ to fit the story of what was considered inappropriate dancing by the middle-classes, but there is no denying that it was well executed with fantastic pace and energy, creatively choreographed by Gillian Bruce. Special mention must go to Millie Hood, who performed mesmerizingly as the understudy for Penny. I did not know hips could move like that or legs be so long!
It was a night of understudy’s as Katie Eccles also took on the role of Baby. However, it is hard to imagine anyone performing the role better. She had the naivety and youth needed for the role, whilst showing a believable growth in her character. The comedy she brought to the role as she learns to dance was also original and this mirrored the general humour seen in this production, an added extra from the original film version. Her relationship with Johnny, performed by Michael O’Reilly, was also sensitively played out. Judging by the whistles and cheers, the ladies in the audience most definitely appreciated the finely chiselled body of Johnny: and you get to see a whole lot of it! He may not quite have the swagger of Patrick Swayze, but I doubt if a body like his has crossed the Grand Theatre Stage before! A mixture of Superman and a Ken doll, he brought some sexual tension to the show with his rotating hips and he definitely knew how to dance with the ladies.
The large, rotating set design by Roberto Comotti and clever use of lights, designed by Valerio Tiberi, allow the scenes to change quickly and smoothly, meaning the pace is consistently fast and energetic. The scene in the lake with the famous lift is extremely clever, the corny use of light and set adding to the unexpected comedy in this stage show (as well as some rather dramatic hair flicks!).
Without doubt, this is one of the best shows I’ve seen in ages. I was tapping along, clapping my hands and cheering with the rest of the audience. If you enjoyed the original film then go and see this show, and take all your friends with you. You will have an absolutely fantastic night full of laughter and reminiscence, reminding you what it’s like to be a teenager (if you’re not still one). It will make you want to sing and it will definitely make you want to dance. And although I know this might be a very controversial thing to say….. even though I loved the film, I think this show is even better!
Box Office 0844 848 2700
All photographs by Alastair Muir. Provided by Leeds Grand Theatre. (All photographs are of Kira Malou in the role of Baby and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny.)