Out of that corner and onto the dance floor as Dirty Dancing returns!
Tantalising new choreography ensures dynamic dance drives the production of Dirty Dancing currently thrilling audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre.
This smash hit adaptation of the classic coming-of-age film is full of even more sizzling hot moves than the last time it visited the new city. (I was lucky enough to see – and learn – some of the the most iconic steps at this year’s Dirty Dancing press launch). The irresistible combination of pounding music and provocative dancing is guaranteed to set pulses racing during the show’s three-week stay.
Eleanor Bergstein’s timeless tale is set in the summer of 1963 at the Kellerman’s resort. Here, daddy’s girl Frances “Baby” Houseman, a naive seventeen-year-old, falls for handsome, bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle. We follow Baby as she experiences the overwhelming rush of first love, in a script which is also peppered with issues of class, family, loyalty and standing up for what is right.
The guests at Kellerman’s are encouraged to participate in group dance lessons with Johnny’s dazzling dance partner Penny. After sunny days spent enjoying similarly wholesome activities (including rounds of golf, Simon Says and musical chairs), the well-to-do holidaymakers attend evening socials to demonstrate their newly-acquired ability to Foxtrot and waltz.
Bored by her parents’ staid vacation activities, Baby sets off to explore the grounds. When she stumbles upon the staff living quarters, she encounters a secret underworld of young men and women who spend all their free time getting down and dirty with risqué dance routines. Instantly mesmerised by Johnny, she is drawn into his escapades and finds herself volunteering to fill in as his dance partner when Penny is otherwise engaged.
Every single character throws some shapes onstage in this production of Dirty Dancing, resulting in a spectrum of hilarious, touching, tender and romantic moments. Heir to the resort, Neil Kellerman (Alexander Wolfe) is comically uncoordinated, yet declares “I have to say it, I’m the catch of the county” to a bemused Baby. Jessie-Lou Yates raises even more laughs as Baby’s prim older sister Lisa with her unique performance (‘Hula Hana’) at the resort’s talent contest. It certainly takes real talent to warble and gesticulate that badly! And Baby’s parents, Dr Jake Houseman (James Coombes) and Mrs Marjorie Houseman (Julia J. Nagle) prove romance is still alive as they reminisce while rediscovering their rhythm.
Still, it is the sultry, sensuous, up-close-and-personal dance style of the rebellious teens and the magnetic attraction between Baby and Johnny that truly gives Dirty Dancing audiences the time of their lives.
Roseanna Frascona embodies teenage optimism as Baby, a fervent Little Miss Fix It who is determined to make the world a better place to be. Roseanna is captivatingly believable as the awkward, shy and innocent Baby in the early scenes, eagerly announcing that she “carried a watermelon”. She infuses her mannerisms and movements with plenty of character, never simply dancing or acting in isolation. This makes for a three-dimensional Baby who really does grow up as the story unfolds.
Gareth Bailey has big shoes to fill taking on the role of Johnny Castle as generations of women have admired the late Patrick Swayze on-screen in the Academy Award-winning 1987 film. Happily, Gareth has nailed the Swayze swagger and his cheeky smile and fine physique result in all the females in the auditorium swooning in their seats. His charismatic performance is on the gentler side of rough and ready (no twenty-first century girl would have any qualms about taking him home to meet the parents) but tough enough to illustrate the union of opposites that Johnny forms with Baby.
Together, Roseanna and Gareth are exceptionally watchable. He is a strong dance partner and, when Roseanna’s Baby becomes feistier, the duo are utterly convincing as Johnny and Baby begin to enjoy dancing and flirting with each other.
Perhaps slightly perplexing for anyone expecting a musical is the fact that neither of the leads sing. Still, the singing that does occur is terrific. The tagline for the production is ‘the classic story on stage’; this is more of a play with music, singing and dancing, as opposed to ‘a musical’. A lot of the singing performed by the Ensemble is part of the entertainment at Kellerman’s and some of the soundtrack is imposed over scenes as background, rather than included as a proper musical number. Nonetheless, the score features all the songs from the film, from ‘Do You Love Me?’ and ‘Hungry Eyes’ to ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’.
In fact, the film is brought to the stage in its entirety as every scene and unforgettable line is included. The trickier locations are created with heavy reliance on digital images projected onto screens. These instances could easily descend into mockery if not for the endearing chemistry between the show’s Baby and Johnny. Generally, the scenery, revolving stage, and projections are used effectively throughout.
This is a high-energy, infectiously joyous show. Perfect for a big girly night out but equally enjoyable as an entertaining evening with the other half, or your mum. So uplifting it will put a spring in your step and a song in your heart. The silly humour will put a smile on your face too.
By the time Johnny utters the immortal declaration that “nobody puts Baby in the corner”, the healing power of dance has worked its magic, up on the stage and off. Cue that iconic routine – with the even more iconic lift – and very appreciative audience members up on their feet.
Dirty Dancing continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 8 November 2014.
This review was also featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.