Dirty Dancing

November 9, 2021 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆  Raunchy

Festival Theatre: Mon 8 – Sat 13 Nov 2021
Review by Thom Dibdin

Every night is Friday night this week at the Festival Theatre where Dirty Dancing provides enough tight buns, iconic moments and hot dance moves to keep them whooping and cheering to the very rafters.

Nor is it just about a rippling six pack or keeping Baby out of the corner; there is a mountain of great intention and youthful heart-on-the-sleeve sentiment to match the moves and the music in this movie-to-musical adaptation.

Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly with (singing) Amber Sylvia Edwards and Samuel Bailey. Pic: Mark Senior

Set in in a Catskill Mountain summer resort in 1963, back before anyone had thought of teaching celebrities to jive for Saturday night entertainment, Dirty Dancing paints its background clear. This is America before Kennedy’s assassination, when Martin Luther King had a dream and when teenagers were learning to fight for a just cause.

Dr Houseman and his family, including youngest daughter Frances – known as “Baby”- are guests of his patient and resort owner Max Kellerman, whose liberal attitudes to racial integration are not reflected in his snobbery towards his staff.

passionate but naive concern

Harvard students on summer jobs get to work as waiters and are urged to flatter – and seduce – the guests. The entertainment staff – at least the dancers who teach the guests so they can fox-trot the night away – are told to keep away and derided for their working class backgrounds.

Kira Malou has just the right level of passionate but naive concern as Baby (Jennifer Grey in the movie), who applies her daddy’s liberal attitudes across the class divide and finds that daddy isn’t quite as liberal as he thought.

Michael O’Reilly (Johnny) Kira Malou (Baby) and Carlie Milner (Penny). Pic: Mark Senior

There’s a lot resting on the shoulders of Michael O’Reilly in the Patrick Swayze role of dancer Johnny Castle, whose dance partner Penny has fallen pregnant by one of the waiting staff. Or rather, given the vocal acclaim O’Reilly receives at the slightest – and not so slight – sight of his flesh, there is a lot resting on his physique.

O’Reilly does not disappoint. He has that insouciant devil-may-care arrogance needed for the role, while also convincing when asked to show his emotional side. As for his physique and dance ability, his gigolo body and sultry looks are complemented by some strong dance moves.

gawky

The only area that both Malou doesn’t convince is in Baby’s learning to dance with Johnny, when she volunteers to take Penny’s place in a crucial dance show after giving Penny $250 to pay for an abortion. Her gawky moves might be hilarious, but the laughter they gain is derisory, not supportive and feels out of keeping.

Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly. Pic: Mark Senior

In an adaptation which sticks very close to the film, the storytelling is often slight and can feel rushed – not a concern for those returning to an old favourite. But it still manages to get to the soul of a piece that finds modern relevance for its concerns of race, class and gender politics.

That said, Lynden Edwards takes his time to develop Dr Houseman and Carlie Milner is both an accomplished dancer and convincing actress as the put-upon Penny. Other characters tend of rush across the stage with barely time to establish any depth, but certainly convey the necessary.

hard working dance team

It’s the dancing and singing where the show’s heart lies. Colin Charles is an appealing Tito Suarez, pumping energy into his turns with the onstage musicians of Kellerman’s band. Amber Sylvia Edwards as singer Elizabeth and Samuel Bailey as Johnny’s cousin, Billy Kostecki, lead the singers with assurance.

As for the hard working dance team, they provide both depth and a focus for the whole production and help ensure that, yes, this is not only “the classic story live on stage” but, for its duration, audience can turn to each other and declare, happily, they are having the time of their lives.

Running time Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval).
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Mon 8 – Sat 13 Nov 2021
Evenings (not Fri): 7.30pm; Fri: 5pm, 8pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Dirty Dancing company. Pic:Mark Senior

ENDS

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