As with many shows that started life as a movie, the stage version can be a slightly peculiar beast: part theatre, part musical, part film transposed into real life. Dirty Dancing (The Classic Story on Stage) contains rather more motion sequences than you might expect from a stage show and fewer live songs than a typical musical. Nevertheless, it boasts a night brimful of dance with a megamix of a soundtrack, so faithfully recreating the film’s storyline that fans won’t feel remotely short-changed.
For anyone who doesn’t know the plot to the 1987 classic film, Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and her family head to an all-American holiday camp. While her sister eyes up the available men, Baby sets out to right a wrong – one which somehow sees the graceless teen needing to learn to rhumba in under a week to salvage a paid gig for the camp’s picture-perfect dance instructor, Johnny.
Despite the silly premise that has kids torn between being teenagers and grown-ups, the background themes of race, class, and sexual politics give it sufficient gravitas to prevent it being trite. Of course, most of the audience will come for the love story: the burgeoning relationship between the gauche rights activist, Baby, and the bold and blasé but secretly scared Johnny. The classic movie moments attract jubilant whoops from this excitable audience.
For film fans, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are hard acts to follow. Yet this cast pull off the not insignificant feat of resetting your expectations. Kira Malou is a cutely comic Baby with a more fully fledged conscience than her celluloid cousin. Michael O’Reilly is moodily splendid as the down-on-his-luck dance teacher who realises that some things are worth fighting for. Carlie Milner sizzles, as she should. in her dance routines with Johnny but is suitably bereft when she encounters 1963’s version of trouble.
There are also some cracking cameos. Colin Charles drips vocal honey onto the dance floor and his duet with Amber Sylvia Edwards is a boisterous delight. The ensemble are all lithe limbs, wriggling hips, and high kicks, with credit to choreographer Austin Wilks. Were that not enough, the pre-recorded soundtrack is jolted into sultry life by the onstage musicians, Miles Russell (trumpet, accordion), Ben Mabberley (guitars), and Tom Mussell on the steamy sax(es).
A dance movie’s still a dance movie, even when it’s adapted for the stage. But maybe there’s something extra poignant about a dance movie in the wake of 19 months of very little dancing. There’s certainly something touching about watching kids standing up for things they believe in, and something indisputably joyous about watching 25 people on stage, shaking their thang and watching an audience whoop and holler their way through every bump and grind of it. If you’re feeling a bit gloomy, film fan or not, a dollop of Dirty Dancing should see you right.