Bringing Sexy Back
1963. The all American family, The Houseman’s, with their two daughters, Lisa and Baby, head off to the Kellerman’s Resort for summer vacation. By the time their vacation is over they, and the world, will have changed. While Harvard preppies clash with hard working Joes, at a time when it could still be considered dirty to dance, one girl undergoes a rite of passage from childhood to womanhood discovering who she is and what really matters. And, most importantly, how to dance. In “Dirty Dancing" - The Classic Story On Stage, based on the 1987 movie, Baby proves she's no pushover as she and Johnny have the time of their lives. Which you will too in this cracking production which sets about bringing sexy back, and does so with some considerable style.
Yet its not always smooth sailing. As 50s frills and flounces bang up against 60s hot pants and hip thrusts, “Dirty Dancing” takes a while to find its feet, and the surface it dances on is sometimes slippery. Like Roberto Comotti’s overly busy set, Eleanor Bergstein’s hyper active script has far too much going on, with both set and script operating with disjointed perspectives. In Comotti’s case, poor perspective sees the Kellerman’s Resort looking like the backdrop to a puppet show on a kids TV programme, not helped by an unnecessary car front cluttering up the already cramped space. Yet Comotti’s design does have its moments, like a wonderfully tacky, tongue in cheek water sequence which is a kitsch delight. In Bergstein’s case, in trying to remain faithful to her original screenplay, she’s done little more than edit it. Yet what works on screen doesn’t always work on stage, as is often the case here. For Bergstein takes a cinematic approach, offering soundbite scenes every few seconds. Luckily much of it lands, though not enough of it sticks for not having time to, making for a confusing, slow burner of an opening. The result becomes like trying to put together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with extra pieces mixed in that don’t need to be there. No one needed a distracting joke on the domino effect and Asian politics right in the middle of Johnny and Baby talking, and they certainly didn’t need another misjudged interruption. Nor did the show, for it already had all the interruptions it could possibly handle. And all the heart it could possibly need, too, which played best when given time to land.
Yet Bergstein’s fractured construction compensates with lots of incidental colour, as well as giving many of the supporting cast their moment to shine. Including a scene stealing Lizzie Ottley as the ditzy Lisa; an impressive Mark Faith as the talented Mr. Schumacher; a superb Stan Doughty, standing in for Greg Fossard, as the patronising yet promising Neil Kellerman, and a cracking turn from Lynden Edwards and Lori Haley Fox as Mr and Mrs Houseman. Indeed, director Federico Bellone does a sterling job in putting together a stellar cast of actors and dancers, and for having the courage to give some relative newcomers substantial rolls; a decision which pays off handsomely. If choreographer, Gillian Bruce, works within a restricted choreographic range, with repeated moves and sequences often lacking variation, she more than makes up for it in the quality of delivery. For Bellone and Bruce aim to bring sexy back, as well as honouring the movie, and achieve both with sharpness and style.
Beginning with a stunning Simone Covele as the pregnant Penny. Penny may not have the same grit and swagger of Cynthia Rhodes’ character from the movie, but Covele has all the glamour, as well as the silvery silk smooth moves to back Penny up, looking at one point like a long limbed Betty Grable in a sublimely striking trio. Michael O’Reilly shines as the Johnny Bravo lookalike, Johnny Castle, all muscle bound bad boy with tattooed on t-shirt, carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of a small city. Clearly O’Reilly got the ‘show us your muscles’ memo and wisely embraced it, his superhero, chiseled good looks appealing to large swathes of the audience. O’Reilly delights in it, being smart enough to know that the audience wants Swayze sex appeal, as well as being smart enough to inject just that bit of edge at key moments to help keep the Magic Mike Johnny this side of real. Kira Malou as the iconic Baby steps into the role being ever respectful of Jennifer Grey, yet goes on to make it her own. Quirky, comic, awkward, sexy, Malou oozes presence and can tell a story with her face alone, proving to be an utter revelation as Baby, with the chemistry between Malou and O’Reilly keeping everything right there at boiling point.
First taking to the stage in 2004, “Dirty Dancing” might struggle to find its feet, but whenever it says, ‘to hell with it all, let’s dance,’ you’re irresistibly transported. Back to 1963. Back to 1987 when the movie first premiered. Back to whenever you last danced and sang your heart out to (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life. Yes, you did it, and don’t bother denying it. You’re probably singing it in your head right now. Wickedly sexy and wildly good fun, “Dirty Dancing” will have you on your feet. Not because you’ll feel obliged to: but because you’ll have no other choice but to sing, clap, and maybe even dance by the end. So go and have the time of your life. Just be careful trying that lift.
“Dirty Dancing" - The Classic Story On Stage, presented by Karl Sydow & Joye Entertainment in association with Lionsgate, Magic Hour & Triple A Entertainment Group, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until June 29.
For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre