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It’s official. Playing the leads of Johnny and Baby are UK Dirty Dancing star Gareth Bailey and our very own Bryony Whitfield. Local boy Luigi Vigliotti is the alternate Johnny.
And that’s the reality of staging something as big as this production, says one of the producers, Pieter Toerien. “We always knew it was a firm condition that Eleanor Bergstein and Karl Sydow choose the Johnny for every production of Dirty Dancing all over the world. We didn’t like it, but it’s their show and they believe everyone has Patrick Swayze in their minds when you say Dirty Dancing, so they have simply made this a condition of every contract.”
They were invited to make suggestions when the casting directors were here and they did. All the people they came up with were auditioned.
“It surprised me how difficult the role is to cast and the team admitted they have found it very hard in every country. The boy can’t be too young or too old (the original who opened in Australia and was extremely good has given up playing the role because after eight years he has become too old),” says Toerien.
Other requirements are that he has to be a sensational dancer and a fine actor and look great, and the most difficult ask locally (something many of our artists lack, according to Toerien) is experience.
“We saw wonderful dancers who simply could not crack the acting or terrific new young actors who could not crack the dancing,” he added.
As the alternate Johnny, Vigliotti was only discovered here after the team had gone back and was sent to London for his audition.
“He was greatly liked, but they were not prepared to let us risk what is a R30 million production on a young actor/dancer in the lead with very little experience.”
Those are the cold facts of show biz today. Local producers don’t always like the demands, but that’s the choice. “It’s been a case of do we not do the show and put 34 other actors, 12 musicians and 22 crew members out of work for the sake of one import?”
For local boy Vigliotti it’s a big break. If he cracks it, his future promises many opportunities. “And there are two more local Johnny covers who will get the rehearsal time and training, which has to be a big plus for them as well,” says Toerien. But he is adamant they will have a good production and our talent pool will be better off as a result of Dirty Dancing.
Others in the cast include Mila de Baggi as Penny, Nadia Beukes as Lisa, Kyle Grant as Billy, Richard Gau as Robbie and Rhys Williams as Neil. Zane Gillion stars as Tito and Mike Huff is Max.
Mark Rayment is Baby’s Dad Jake and Kate Normington is Marge – her mom. Malcolm Terry plays the part of Mr Schumaker and Nurit Graff is Viv.
The ensemble includes Kjersti Soberg, Bradley Searle, Claire Scheepers, LJ Nielsen, Chris Jaftha, Cameron Botha, Liezl Oelofsen, Sebe Leotela, Jessica Green, Henk Opperman and Lebo Toko.
Produced by Toerien and Hazel Feldman, the show is described as an unprecedented live experience, exploding with heart-pounding music, passionate romance and sensationally sexy dancing.
• Dates: Joburg at the Teatro, Montecasino, from October 26 to January 13; Cape Town at Artscape, from January 18 to March 10.
Performances: Tuesday-Fri day at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sunday at 2pm and 6pm
Tickets: from R100 to R400 (prices vary depending on day of week and performance time, so check with Computicket). Tickets can be purchased at the theatre box offices or online at www.computicket.com