Dirty Dancing The Classic Story on Stage
by Eleanor Bergstein
Karl Sydow, Joye Entertainment & Paul Elliott in association with Lionsgate & Magic Hour Productions
Directed by Federico Bellone
De Montfort Hall, Leicester
10th-16th April 2017
'sometimes, the dancing is quite dirty'
Dirty Dancing at De Montfort Hall does what it says on the tin: there's quite a lot of dancing and sometimes, the dancing is quite dirty.
The 1987 film on which this is based is held in fond esteem by many, thanks to its enjoyable blend of '60s soul, the smouldering Patrick Swayze, and the endless summer at Kellerman's hotel up in the hills.
Set in 1963, Baby (Katie Hartland) is on holiday with her father Dr Housman (Julian Harries), mother Marjorie (Simone Craddock), and sister Lisa (Lizzie Ottley). Baby has a heart and a conscience, and is one summer away from the Peace Corps.
Her holiday becomes more interesting when she offers to help out dance teacher and hotel heartthrob Jonny (Lewis Griffiths) when his regular partner Penny (Carlie Milner - a fantastic dancer) becomes 'incapacitated'. Assumptions and prejudices festering in both the family and holiday haven surface, and Jonny and Baby's relationship has its difficulties before the uplifting finale.
This show pretty much tracks the film as far as it can, with Roberto Comotti's multi-faceted, revolving set working hard to depict numerous locations. The famous 'lady of the lake' scene is inventively portrayed thanks to screens, projection and sound (Armando Vertullo).
Baby's journey could be a 1960s pre-cursor to Strictly - minus the spray tan and sequins - as she overcomes her lack of dancing experience, learns a routine, balances on a log and falls in love with her tutor.
Griffiths's impressively muscular body and mastery of his moves draws gasps and whoops from the largely female audience, and he is certainly an eye-catching dancer. However, he is all mean and moody at the expense of any other personal qualities and there is little chemistry between him and Hartland until the final number. Delivery of dialogue throughout by quite a few of the cast is not far off the performance of the aforementioned log.
The cast have pretty ropey material to work with in terms of Eleanor Bergstein's script (and writer of the original screenplay), and the underlying messages of segregation, the fall out from the Cuban missile crisis and money equalling power are dealt with dismissively. It feels like Federico Bellone's direction in the speaking elements of the show lacks any real thought, and the appalling attempt at audience participation should be scrapped immediately.
However, nostalgia for the film goes a long way here and any failings seem to be forgiven by the enthusiastic audience. Choreographer Gillian Bruce sticks to the iconic dance routines and the final number hits all the right buttons, with Billy (Michael Kent) and Elizabeth (Daniela Pobega) performing a fine rendition of '(I've had) The Time of My Life', and as Jonny and Baby finally look like they are indeed having the time of their life.
So, if Dirty Dancing is your thing, there is quite a lot of dancing, and sometimes, the dancing is quite dirty.