Dirty Dancing – the Classic Story Live On Stage
Paul Johnson | 08 Mar 2017 15:18pm
Katie Harland & Lewis Griffiths. Photo: Alastair Muir
What an interesting experience it was to attend the 7,000th performance of Dirty Dancing – the Classic Story Live On Stage at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre this week, especially being one of the ‘sad’ individuals in the house never to have seen either the 1987 film or subsequent stage show – ever! Yes, apparently I’m part of a very small minority who knows nothing of Patrick Swayze’s magnetic sex appeal and hypnotic dance moves, although it’s impossible to avoid others talking about; that ‘song’, that ‘lift’ and that line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” whatever that means. Well, now I know. However, I now find myself needing to see the film, as the stage show – despite its undeniable success – is one of the most curious theatre productions I’ve ever seen. Never before has a show felt more geared around one single song than in Dirty Dancing (whether or not it won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award).
The film, which was the first to sell a million videos, has become a famous coming-of-age drama set in the early 60s with an iconic soundtrack and plenty of raunchy dancing. It has built up a huge worldwide fan base over the years, and it is arguably this group of people whom the producers have targeted in bringing the action to the stage; those who already know the story. It looks very much as if Eleanor Bergstein’s original screenplay has been faithfully placed onstage – scene by scene – without much thought to how this might come across to a theatre audience. Apparently the writer even added several extra moments not included in the film. This stage production has way too many scenes (and increasingly irritating scene changes), making it struggle to work. Movies are filmed on location and can flick from one short scene to another in the blink of an eye. Theatre is very different.
Unlike similar films made around the same time such as Footloose, Dirty Dancing has not been adapted into a musical and remains, in essence, a dance-drama. However, no matter how effective and talented your cast are (and that’s not in dispute), a screenplay will always need careful and skillful adapting for theatre if you want the drama to be effective. This will also struggle if you provide an underscore throughout the entire 2-hour duration as is done in Dirty Dancing – replicating the film’s soundtrack of over 40 tunes. But for fans of the film, who certainly all came to life for the multi-award-winning (I’ve had) The Time of My Life climax, I’m sure the whole evening provides a different experience.
Performance-wise, Katie Harland excels in the role of ‘Baby’, the teenager on holiday with her family whose eyes are opened to the steamy and erotic world of dance when she stumbles on the resort’s entertainers enjoying what they do best when not teaching guests how to Samba. Her initial ineptitude and growing confidence in dance is extremely appealing. Lewis Griffiths makes a suitably sexy alternative to Patrick Swayze as the supremely confident Johnny Castle, possessing some near-impossible hip movements. His myriad of topless scenes and deliberate bum-flash in Act II were big hits with much of the watching contingent. Carlie Milner as Penny, Johnny Castle’s (pregnant) regular partner, is one of the most mesmerising dancers I’ve ever seen; her numerous ballet credits come as no surprise as she makes the very best of a supporting role.
Such is the talent and appeal of this good-looking cast, I found myself wishing the show had indeed been adapted to include more ‘musical’ ensemble routines. The dance duets, choreographed by Gillian Bruce, are indeed splendid but with the only full ensemble routine coming at the very end to that song with that lift it all felt a little too late. But don’t take my word for it – and what do I know anyway, I’ve not even seen the film! …and you certainly don’t get to an impressive 7,000 performance by chance.
Photo: Alastair Muir
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- : 07/03/2017