Dirty Dancing is one of my all-time favourite films, so I was a bit sceptical about heading back to the summer of 1963 for the evening to see a story I know very well, performed live as a musical.
I had looked into seeing the show when it first came to the West End in 2006, but had opted to see other shows instead, especially after learning the main characters didn’t sing. I wasn’t really sure how this was going to work as a musical without a song from the leads to progress the story. This falls halfway between a juke box musical and dance show as all of the songs are familiar and 50% of the time the original tracks being played. In reality, I didn’t really notice the leads weren’t singing once I was caught up in the story. The band were impressive and I liked that they were placed at the top of the stage behind slats. Having them visible during certain scenes was effective and a very nice touch.
The main three singers were very strong but sometimes I felt they were a little out of place in scenes. Saying that, one of the most engaging moments of the entire show was Wayne Smith’s flawless performance of ‘In The Still Of The Night’.
The costumes were perfect for the era and also stayed very true to the film. The set and props were minimal as the background and slats at the side of the wings were screens. This worked extremely well in terms of theming and really made you feel like you were transported to the set of the original film. This also helped the iconic water lift scene look as realistic as possible with some of the familiar elements we are used to seeing.
I did wonder before the performance how this would be tackled, as it is not something that can be left out. Although I did feel that seeing the log fall was more interesting than the scene itself. It was over very quickly and took place behind a gauze. The lift scene did get a positive reaction from the audience, who I’m sure all agreed that this was difficult to pull off live.
I initially enjoyed Jill Winternitz portrayal of Baby, but felt that she didn’t really develop the character as the story progressed. She played the girl next door well but lacked the conviction that certain scenes called for to make them believable.
Paul Michael Jones certainly has big boots to fill in the role of Johnny, as everyone is so used to swooning over Patrick Swayze. His portrayal was very good and he really made it his own and didn’t disappoint on the dance side either, proving to be an equal match to Charlotte Gooch in the role of former Rockette, Penny. She gave a fantastic performance and was a joy to watch throughout.
However, the real standout performance for me came from Stefan Menaul in the part of Neil Kellerman, a character who actually irritates me in the film. I found in the bigger scenes, he drew attention without trying but for all the right reasons. He also played the comedy equally as well as his more serious storyline when he realises he’s not cut out for the Peace Core.
The audience seemed to enjoy show with little chortles rippling through the audience when some of the most famous lines were relayed. ‘Nobody puts baby in the corner’ got a full on applause and is clearly Jones’ favourite line of the show.
The audience didn’t waste any time in clapping along and cheering when the final dance started, and left with the impression that this was what everyone in the audience was waiting for and it didn’t disappoint.
The dance was exactly as I remember and a lot of fun to watch. I did feel the singers who sang the iconic song ‘Time of your life’ did this justice and put their own stamp on it without imposing on the original.
If you, like me, love the film then you certainly won’t be disappointed. The show stays true to its roots with the majority of the lines lifted directly from the film. Whether you are looking for a fun night out or just fancy stepping back in time to enjoy a bit of nostalgia, I would recommend this as the perfect girls night out.
Review by Christine Donnelly
Dirty Dancing is at the Piccadilly Theatre until 22nd February 2014
Evenings: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 7.00pm
Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 2.30pm
Friday 13th September 2013