*This experience was kindly gifted to me for the sake of review by Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.
When you think of Dirty Dancing, you think of a corny 80s flick with immense sex appeal and cliches from the era scattered everywhere – it’s a movie that definitely succeeds in achieving the sexy, naive story telling that the 80s was great for. So how well does it translate to the musical theatre?
Honestly, incredibly well. But for those of you unfamiliar with what the story of Dirty Dancing is about (seriously?) let me give you a quick recap: Dirty Dancing follows its lead female protagonist as she spends her Summer vacation in a wealthy holiday part with her sister and her parents. Shortly after seeing Johnny and Penny dancing together, she discovers that Penny is pregnant and in need of an abortion with another man working at the park. It’s pretty hard to deny the chemistry that Johnny and Penny have, even Baby mistakes them for a couple, but it’s no more than platonic friendship. Anyway, after all of this, everything goes south and Baby ends up wanting to learn how to dance so that she can fill Penny’s shoes and dance in her place.
As the show begins and you’re cosy in your chair, the opening sequence to the musical theatrical take on Dirty Dancing is big, bold and frankly: spectacular. I was blown away within the first five minutes of the show. The leggy dancers being thrown around like they’re rag dolls to the beat of the music as the story opens is truly worth going for in itself. I was so impressed by these performers that I felt my own feet tapping away on the ground and the urge to bop my head along with them was one that was very strong.
But the breath taking opening sequence aside, there is a lot more to digest with this take on Dirty Dancing, you’re introduced to Baby pretty much straight away, and whoever did the casting and costumes did a pretty great job because the resemblance is uncanny, as Baby moves around on the stage it’s as if you’re watching Jennifer Grey in her youth all over again. The humour is fun, you’re watching Baby learn how to dance and her stiff and amateur moves and overall awkwardness as she laughs around the stage because she’s getting too intimate with Johnny is truly a fun sight to see. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face every time their scenes were taken slow and you were watching these two characters have fun.
But this is also where this take on Dirty Dancing falls a bit flat – time is limited and fitting every key part of the movie into the theatre means that the story and side stories are a tad bit rushed. If you’ve never seen Dirty Dancing the movie, Dirty Dancing in the theatre isn’t going to compensate for it, even though the scenes do seem to follow the movie line for line, these scenes aren’t long lived. But what this take on the movie lacks in time and pace it makes up for in humour and wow factor. Particularly with scenes where the audience get to engage and whistles and cheering certainly take away the all-seriousness of the atmosphere in Dirty Dancing,
Where there are scenes that can’t quite be done on stage, such as the iconic scene where Johnny and Baby learn their also iconic lift together in the river, humour is provided with the fun work around of the lack of river and being able to freely drop each other, this provided laughs amongst the theatre and again: loosened up what felt like an all-serious story in the best kind of way.