Review: Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage (10/06/2014 – 28/06/2014)

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The iconic film Dirty Dancing (1987) was finally adapted for the stage almost two decades after its release. After a record-breaking run in the West End, the UK tour for Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage has come to The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

The story of Francis “Baby” Houseman and her encounters with the staff at the Kellerman’s holiday resort unfolds on stage, and all those iconic scenes and songs will cast you into that steamy summer of 1963, wishing you had taken up dancing yourself.

The sets were, when done right, breathtakingly beautiful. Setting the stage alight with the red-hot and sexy vibrancy of the staff’s after-hours dirty dancing, the lighting designs were particularly successful in recreating the various moods of the film. There was a stunningly romantic sunset, and the violent storms were equally as spectacular. The iconic scene of Baby and Jonny dancing on the log was a particular highlight, and it is clear that a lot of time and money has been invested in the design and production elements. At times this did seem to be at the sacrifice of the story, as their failed attempt to replicate the scene with the lift in the water drew attention away from the growing bond of the characters and into a criticism of how much the production team had, or had not, managed to replicate the film.­

Despite some misses however, the sets still carried the audience through Baby and Jonny’s tumultuous relationship, the highs and the lows intensified by the creative use of the stage. The montage of Baby’s dancing lessons was smooth and wonderfully done, using a screen to display the days as they progressed. And of course, the use of the original track list gave it the feel of a truly authentic adaptation, with classics such as ‘Hungry Eyes’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ sung by the talented ensemble.

The love story of Jonny and Baby remained largely unchanged from the film, with a few added scenes designed to flesh out their their relationship. Unfortunately their connection seemed less authentic on stage, as while Roseanna Frascona’s “Baby” was convincing enough, Gareth Bailey’s performance of Jonny was missing that intangible bad-boy aura that Patrick Swayze so effortlessly conveyed in the film. This only proves that the rebellious and sexy nature of the character Jonny, or to put it in contemporary terms his ‘swagger’, is about far more than just a pair of sunglasses and a leather jacket. Unfortunately for Gareth Bailey, as a professionally trained dancer he naturally carries himself in a very ballroom-esque stature; his mambo with on-stage dance partner Penny was far more convincing than the dirty grinding that went down on the staff’s dance floor after the show for the guests was over.

Though the chemistry of the two leads did manage to capture the audience, it is arguably incomparable to that of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s on screen, whose real-life tension had translated into the infamously passionate scenes of Dirty Dancing. Though arguably impossible to replicate, most people would have already seen the film prior to the stage adaptation, and would thus already be invested in Baby and Jonny’s forbidden romance.

Generally the production was incredibly faithful to the original story, but a particularly welcome addition was the focus on the civil rights movement, and more inclusion of the political upheaval going on outside of the Kellerman’s resort. The Houseman family vacation during the summer of 1963 was therefore more solidly grounded in terms of its position in American history, giving Baby’s humanitarian personality more meaning and context.

Overall it was incredibly cheesy, but that’s where the charm lies. The original film was openly corny and when Jonny bursts through the auditorium doors shouting “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” you’ll find yourself both cringing and clapping at the same time. The audience was enraptured, as the predominantly middle-aged female audience erupted with applause for their teenage heart-throb. The show is full of irresistibly contagious dancing by an incredibly talented cast, and the corny dialogue is replicated exactly from the film in most cases – so you must know that you’re setting yourself up for an intense amount of chick-flick cheese.

8/10 – Ultimately though, this production is impressive, full of talent and infectiously fun. Get ready for the goosebumps during that iconic lift; the final scene is one that really captures the climactic energy of the original. Don’t miss this spectacular opportunity to see one of the most iconic love stories on stage.

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is now playing at the Mayflower Theatre, with its last performance on Saturday 28th June. You can buy your tickets here.

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