Dirty Dancing – New Wimbledon Theatre Review

Published by Daniel Bennifer on September 27, 2016 12:15 pm
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We carried a watermelon and had the time of our lives at Dirty Dancing’s opening night at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Ready to kick off your dancing shoes, carry a watermelon and have the time of your life? Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage has returned and is embarking on a nationwide tour across the country. Having opened at the New Wimbledon Theatre last night, it’s a show that certainly doesn’t disappoint – and delivers on its promise of being the “ultimate live experience” for fans of the Swayze-classic.

Dirty Dancing is – and possibly for good reason – known as a fan favourite of the ladies, with the 1987 film being regarded as a holy grail for romance. Though, that’s certainly not the case, and there’s enjoyment for everyone to be had – and this is certainly true for the show itself.

The success of the film during its release – and to this day – is undeniable. It smashed records, boosted dance class attendance, and was the most-rented film of the year. It was even the first film to sell a million copies on home video (heck – remember the days of good old VHS?).

It thrusted its two leads – Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey into the limelight and forever cemented them in pop culture. It’s not an understatement to expect that Swayze’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was largely down to his role in the film. Ask anyone as to his most memorable performance and you’ll be swarmed with a singular answer: Johnny Castle. The real question here, however is, does the show live up to the pedigree of the now-classic movie?

For those who haven’t seen the film (sacrilege, we hear you scream!), Dirty Dancing is set during the summer of 1963 – before president Kennedy was shot and before the Beatles came – as 17-year old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (played by Katie Hartland) and her family vacation in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Caring very little for the activities on offer at the resort, she discovers her own entertainment, stumbling upon an all-night dance party thrown by the staff.

Enthralled by the raunchy dance movies and music, she’s keen to become a part of the scene. Even more-so when she catches a glimpse of Johnny Castle – the resorts in-house dance instructor – played by Lewis Griffiths. However, little does she know how much her life is about to change. Spurred on by the unexpected pregnancy troubles of Penny Johnson – Castle’s dance partner – who’s played fabulously by Carlie Milner – ‘Baby’ steps up and finds herself thrown in the deep end, as Johnny’s leading lady – both on stage and off.

The show does ramp up the comedic nature a few notches – in comparison to the film – as the two young lovers come together in what is undoubtedly the most challenging summer of their lives. Though, it’s worked into the overall production marvellously and at the correct times, never detracting from the plot – and instead, only adding to it.

If there’s one glaringly noticeable difference between the stage and film version of Dirty Dancing, however, it would be the pacing of the show. At times, it can feel as if things are moving a little too quickly. Before we even knew it, the first act was over and it was time for the interval. It can leave you wanting more. Though, that’s not necessarily always a bad thing and considering the show has been selling-out entire runs since it’s 2004 stage debut, it’s clear people are returning time and time again.

Not to forget, that there’s arguably a massive amount to fit into the run time of the production, which boasts more than 35 hit songs, including fan-favourite classics including ‘Hungry Eyes,’ ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do You Love Me?’, and of course – what would the show be without it – ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’.

Yet, this isn’t a musical. Despite the fact that it may initially appear as one – it most certainly isn’t. Yes, there’s a few songs that are performed live by the cast – including fantastic, crowd-arousing performances from Michael Kent (who plays Billy Kostecki) and Daniela Pobega (who plays Elizabeth). Though, the vast majority of them, are in fact, not performed live and rely entirely on background tracks, whilst the cast stun the audience with sensationally sexy dance performances. Mind you – this isn’t a complaint – but something that’s worth noting and taking into account, if you’re heading in expecting a full-blown musical production. We assure you, it is nonetheless heart-pounding due to it.

 

Filled to the brim with sexual tension...a magical fantasy”

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is a night filled with sensationally sexy dancing and heart-pounding music, that will leave you wanting more. It’s a night of ‘magical fantasy’. Don’t forget to bring your watermelons.

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage, as you’d expect is filled to the very brim with sexual tension. From the erotic nature of the dancing to the very script itself. This is nothing that fans of the film will be surprised to hear – and it certainly didn’t faze the packed theatre at the New Wimbledon on the night we attended. We can’t recall a single time that Griffiths’ wasn’t greeted onto the stage with screams and whistles of excitement from the women. Most notably, in one particularly risqué scene – which features a flash of his bum.

Julian Harries as Baby’s father, Jake Houseman and her mother, Marjorie Houseman, played by Simone Craddock embody their characters perfectly. As does the entirety of the rest of the cast who round up the production, from Lizzie Ottley as Lisa Houseman, who delivers massive amounts of laughs towards the end of the show, to Greg Fossard and Roger Martin, who portray Neil Kellerman and Max Kellerman, respectively.

If there’s one thing that’s especially worth mentioning, it would be the incredible set design by Roberto Comotti, who makes use of the space available on stage with fantastic prowess. There’s a large amount of locations to portray, and the moving and multi-purpose set pieces succeed massively in doing so. Similarly, the use of projection techniques to create set pieces – including thunder storms and the much-beloved lake scene – which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, is a triumphant in its own right.

It isn’t hard to see why Dirty Dancing has sold out several months in advance during prior runs. It’s a show that you’ll want to see time and time again. It’s a ‘magical fantasy,’ and we can’t recommend it enough. Yes, we swear it's the truth (had enough of the corny references, there, now?).

Heading to see the show yourself before it moves onto another leg in its UK tour? Then don’t be afraid to get up out of your chair and dance the night away – because you can be certain everyone else will be. This is one show that certainly deserved its standing ovation.

You can catch Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage at the New Wimbledon Theatre until October 1, at which point it will transfer to Manchester’s Palace Theatre. This is one you won’t want to miss. Tickets can be purchased here.

 

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