Last night, I revisited my youth and had the time of my life when I went to watch the new production of Dirty Dancing at The Palace Theatre, Manchester. This iconic film from the 90’s is one of my favorites and I must admit I was apprehensive about whether I would feel the same about the stage production, however, I was surprisingly delighted.
The director Federico Bellone has created a fast-paced, exciting production that follows the film extremely closely in terms of music, story and characters. I must say, as a huge fan I was pleased they chose to do it this way rather than veer off into the unknown! The few changes that were added, were done so to extend the backdrop to the period (1963) and the social/racial difficulties the US were experiencing.
The story (if you somehow have managed to avoid this film in the last 20 years) follows Baby and her well-bred family as they visit a holiday camp for the summer. The camp focuses on teaching guests how to dance, with a team of professionals who are captivating and exciting to the innocent Baby. She soon discovers a raunchy new world behind the scenes and falls for the charming Johnny Castle, who in turn falls for her innocent, optimistic view of the world. They begin to discover their different background and challenging circumstances presented at the camp might stop their relationship from blossoming further. Luckily for all of us, after he leaves to go his own way, he decides to come back for Baby and fight his corner. Yipee!
The cast dazzled and brought buckets of energy and enthusiasm to their roles. As for the actor who played Johnny, Lewis Griffiths …what can I say…he is gorgeous, charismatic, an extremely talented actor and adopted the role perfectly. From the reaction from the rest of the theatre, who whooped and screamed during his scenes, me and my mum weren’t the only ones smitten with him and wishing we were Baby! Apparently, dancing was his weakest link behind acting and singing which astonished me, as his Latin dancing was flawless, showing precision and strength and when it came to the ’grinding’ dancing, well…he really had the moves. I beginning to sweat so best move on! Penny, played by Carlie Milner was equally a beautiful dancer and captivated the audience throughout each wonderfully choreographed routine created by the talented Gillian Bruce. Katie Eccles who played Baby, acted the role well and was very good at looking like an amateur dancer in the opening scenes and added some good comic moments. This production of Baby is much more light hearted and sillier than the film version which I suppose works better on stage. She also had good chemistry with Griffith and Milner.
The ensemble cast were all excellent dancers and singers and were a pleasure to watch, especially during the larger dance scenes. Two quick nods to Jo Servi and Sophia Mackay who provided some soulful, amazing vocals to the equally talented live band who often appeared on stage with the cast.
The ladies dresses were absolutely stunning and the sets were well executed to provide all the scenes from the film, including the famous river/log scene and the lake with the lift. These scenes prompted much giggling from the audience.
The only criticism is that the story was very fast paced and as a consequence, some of the emotional scenes were lost due to this speed which is a shame as those moments in the film are what really enhanced the characters appeal.
I advise you get your tickets quickly and enjoy a fun-filled, vibrant evening of dancing and romance or you could simply go to just to drown in the charms of Johnny Griffiths.
Running from Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 July 2017 in Manchester before moving on to Leeds 24 July – 29 July. Tickets start at £35 and upwards depending on where you sit and what time you attend.
The Production is also touring around the United Kingdom – http://dirtydancingontour.com/tickets-tour
Review by Claire Whitehead