DIRTY DANCING. Directed by Sarah Tipple, with Bryony Whitfield, Gareth Bailey, Kate Normington, Mark Rayment, Genna Galloway, Mila De Biaggi, Richard S Gau, Rhys Williams and Mike Huff. At Artscape Theatre until March 3. TERRI DUNBAR-CURRAN reviews.
AS THE opening chords of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life fill the auditorium, the audience erupts into delighted shrieks.
This is Dirty Dancing – the Classic Story on Stage. Groups of dizzy, excited women poured into Artscape for the live version of a movie which, for many, was a defining part of their own coming of age. For them, the chance to see Johnny and Baby up close and personal was irresistible.
The creative team behind Dirty Dancing at Artscape are well aware of just how important the film was to fans and have tried to keep the stage incarnation as close to the screen version as possible. How well they have done is evident in the audience reaction. From Baby’s first awkward dance lessons, to the daring balancing act on the log and of course the iconic lake scene, it’s all there.
But this isn’t just a show for the die-hard fans. There’s something here for everyone. With a strong humanitarian message for those who want to change the world, for teens growing up and realising that there’s more to life than their parents, for parents learning to let go of their children and for those discovering who they are and which direction they want their lives to take, Dirty Dancing makes for an entertaining night out.
Set in 1963 at the time of Martin Luther King jr’s memorable “I have a dream” speech, the story centres on the blossoming romance between a teen from a wealthy family and one of the entertainment staff at a holiday resort. However, it’s not all fun games and dance lessons when one of the young dancers discovers she is pregnant and her partner leaves her scared and alone.
Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set design is kept simple, relying heavily on moveable slatted screens and digital projections which set the scene, from the dining room at Kellerman’s to the staff quarters and the forest. Extensive use is made of the rotating stage and set changes of chairs and tables are smoothly choreographed, making for a seamless production. The technical gimmick used to bring the field and lake scenes to life is clever, although it prompts laughter every time the pair emerge from the water.
Kate Normington and Mark Rayment are stellar as Baby’s parents Marjorie and Dr Jake Houseman, while the beaming Bryony Whitfield and smooth Gareth Bailey make for a great Baby and Johnny. There is no doubt as to who has stepped on to stage when Bailey makes his first appearance as Johnny Castle – the audience goes wild.
Some secondary characters at times appear a little stilted in their acting alongside more accomplished actors, but not so much that it is too distracting. They would benefit from relaxing into their roles a little and connecting more with the emotions at play, rather than simply delivering lines with confidence.
Genna Galloway steps into the role of Baby’s sister Lisa, and is particularly amusing in the grating musical number Lisa’s Hula. Richard S Gau plays the arrogant Robbie to Mila De Biaggi’s desperate, heartbroken Penny. Host Max Kellerman is portrayed by Mike Huff, with Rhys Williams as his son Neil making a play for Baby.
Without a doubt the highlight of this production is, fittingly, the dancing. Hats off to choreographer Kate Champion and ballroom and Latin choreographer Craig Wilson. The show is packed with a variety of dance styles, executed beautifully by the cast and complemented by bright costumes by Jennifer Irwin. From fun and flirty to breathtakingly passionate, the dance routines will leave you ready for a night on the town.
Having a live band on stage makes this production even more slick. Conducted by musical director and keyboardist Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, the musicians do a fantastic job with the iconic songs.
The original film was written by Eleanor Bergstein, who was delighted to rework the script for the stage. Looking at the success of the original, it made sense that the next step would be staging it so that the fans could feel like they were immersed in the story they love so much. The live production includes more songs than the film as well as additional scenes. Some of the songs fans will recognise are Hey Baby, Kellerman’s Anthem and She’s Like the Wind. Singer Sebe Leotlela has ample opportunity to show off her powerful voice throughout the show.
Dirty Dancing is an enjoyable reworking of the classic film and does its utmost to ensure audience members have the time of their life.