Dirty Dancing

Feb 27 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Faithful and affectionate

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tues 24 Feb – Sat 14 March 2015

Technically impressive, the touring production of Dirty Dancing avoids any suspicion of cynically trading on the affection felt for the original film while never really succeeding in its own right.

The 1980s coming-of-age movie featured a ‘wrong side of the tracks’ romance between doctor’s daughter Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and dance instructor Johnny Castle. Despite being a low budget affair, it became a massive and enduring hit and made Patrick Swayze a major heartthrob.

Gareth Bailey and Claire Rogers. Photo: Dirty Dancing Tour

Gareth Bailey and Claire Rogers. Photo: DirtyDancingOnTour

There can be no doubt that many of the audience for the stage show will have watched the movie countless times and will be wanting to see it reproduced.

Which is part of the problem. While there are some moments that seem to make gentle fun of the source material, on the whole it is a remarkably faithful recreation of Eleanor Bergstein’s original screenplay. The temptation to turn it into a full-blown musical has been firmly resisted. The result is a production marketed largely as musical theatre featuring copious amounts of dancing but very little singing.

There are of course some very familiar tunes from the film, and if many of the standards from the story’s 1963 setting are missing, their replacements are from the same period and at least as recognisable. However, just at the moment when one of the characters could be expected to burst into Swayze’s immortal power ballad She’s Like The Wind, instead we get a timid instrumental version that soon fades out.

Neither a souped-up musical version of the original nor an affectionate pastiche, this production is instead an attempt at recreation that, while impressive on many levels, fails to have as much charm as it might.

the necessary panache

The ghost of Swayze will always hang heavy over any remake, and while Gareth Bailey’s Johnny cannot match such brooding intensity, his dancing is thoroughly crowd-pleasing and means that the finale in particular has the necessary panache.

Gareth Bailey and Roseanna Frascona. Photo: DirtyDancingOnTour

Gareth Bailey and Roseanna Frascona. Photo: DirtyDancingOnTour

Roseanna Frascone cuts an almost frighteningly waif-like and winsome figure as Baby, growing visibly and believably in maturity and dancing ability as the show progresses. However, there seems to be a lack of chemistry between the two leads – it is noticeable that Bailey’s dances with the magnificent Claire Rogers, who plays his professional dance partner Penny, have much more sparkle and pizzazz.

The ensemble dancing on the whole is top class, with choreographer Kate Champion marshalling the troops cleverly. Considerable thought has gone into the staging, with Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set proving resilient and versatile, even if the revolving stage is overused.

Sarah Tipple’s direction manages to smooth over many of the problems of transplanting a film to the stage, with the disruption caused by a series of short scenes kept to a minimum. As a result, the plot skips merrily along, its gentle message of tolerance and inclusion lightly worn.

While some of the music is recorded, most of it is provided by a spirited onstage band. Those numbers that are sung are uniformly good, although it remains odd that the singers are minor cast members rather than the principal actors.

a high level of commitment

There are some impressive comedy turns, notably by Alexander Wolfe as Baby’s would-be suitor Neil Kellerman and Jessie-Lou Yates (Baby’s older sister Lisa). Indeed, there is a high level of commitment from the cast as a whole, with Colin Charles displaying real presence as veteran singer Tito Suarez.

There can be no denying the power of the finale, with the long-awaited I’ve Had The Time Of My Life packing a real musical and emotional punch. The whole of the last scene seems to perk up and have the atmosphere of a proper musical. This takes the evening to a whole new level and shows how much more impressive a complete re-tooling might have been.

Gareth Bailey and Company. Photo DirtyDancingOnTour

Gareth Bailey and Company. Photo: DirtyDancingOnTour

Despite the skill and commitment of so many performers, ultimately this is not wholly successful either as a celebration or as a show in its own right.  There is fun here for hardcore fans but the suspicion remains that more fun might be had watching that DVD again.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)

Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA

Run ends Saturday 14 March 2015
Monday – Thursday 7.30 pm, Friday 5.00 pm and 8.30 pm, Saturday 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dirty-dancing-tickets/edinburgh-playhouse/

Dirty Dancing on tour 2015:
24 Feb – 14 Mar Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
18 – 28 Mar Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
7 – 25 Apr Liverpool
0844 871 3017 Book online
30 Apr – 23 May Birmingham
0844 338 5000 Book online
26 May – 13 Jun Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
16 Jun – 4 Jul Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 267222 Book online
7 – 25 Jul 2015 Bradford
01274 432000 Book online
4 – 22 Aug 2015 Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
25 Aug – 5 Sep Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
8 Sep – 3 Oct Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
6 – 17 Oct 2015 Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online


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