Inspired by the hit 1987 film, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage first appeared in Australia in 2004. After mixed reviews, the show was deemed a commercial success so hopped the pond and opened in Germany and London’s West End in 2006. London audiences caught on quickly and this stage adaption of the iconic film was so hotly anticipated that it had the highest pre-sell in London history, earning £6 million. After a five year run, the original West End production closed in 2011 before heading out on a two year UK and Ireland tour. Since this initial tour, the show has been steadily either on tour or the West End, where it was last seen in 2022. Now, Dirty Dancing is back again in at the Dominion Theatre proving, nightly, why nobody puts Baby in a corner.
It’s the summer of 1963, and 17 year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is about to learn some major lessons in life as well as a thing or two about dancing. On holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents, she shows little interest in the resort activities and instead discovers her own entertainment when she stumbles across an all-night dance party at the staff quarters. Mesmerised by the raunchy dance moves and the pounding rhythms, Baby can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle the resort dance instructor. Her life is about to change forever as she is thrown in at the deep end as Johnny’s leading lady both on-stage and off, and two fiercely independent young spirits from different worlds come together in what will be the most challenging and triumphant summer of their lives.
Reprising their roles from the show 2022 West End run are Michael O’Reilly (West Side Story, Leicester Curve; Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies, Theatre Royal Plymouth) and Kira Malou (Fame, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre; Penny on Mars, Disney Plus) step once again into the dancing shoes of Johnny and Baby. Other returning cast include Charlotte Gooch (Singin’ in the Rain, UK Tour) who returns to the role of Penny Johnson, Georgina Castle (Cinderella, Gillian Lynne Theatre) as Lisa Houseman, alongside Lynden Edwards (A Little Night Music, Garrick Theatre) as Jake Houseman, Jackie Morrison (The Last Ship, US tour) as Marjorie Houseman, Colin Charles (We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre) as Tito Suarez, Michael Remick (Follies, National Theatre) as Max Kellerman and Tony Stansfield (Little Women, Hope Mill Theatre) as Mr Schumacher.
Joining the show for the first time are Danny Colligan (Les Misérables, Sondheim Theatre) as Billy Kostecki, Alastair Crosswell (Singin’ in the Rain, UK Tour) as Neil Kellerman and Lydia Sterling, making her West End debut as Elizabeth. Completing the cast are Chrissy Brooke, Inez Budd, Lily Laight, Hollie-Ann Lowe, Callum Fitzgerald, Nathan Ryles, Joel Benjamin, Shaquille Brush, Carly Miles, Ben Middleton, Lee Nicholson, Ayden Morgan, Miles Russell, Tom Parsons, Morgan Burgess, Tom Mussell, Christopher Fry and Charlotte Coggin who returns after making her surprise West End debut early in 2022 in Dirty Dancing when she went from working as an usher at the Dominion to starring on its stage overnight!
Lynden Edwards and Jackie Morrison as Dr. Jake and Marjorie Houseman were sweet together and their brief song Save The Last Dance was a tender moment. Charlotte Gooch as Penny Johnson was a fantastic dancer and embodied the character well. Penny’s story was the only real tension in the show and Gooch handled the role with grace. Apart from the Houseman’s, Danny Colligan as Billy and Lydia Sterling as Elizabeth were the only named characters to have solos. Colligan’s In The Still Of The Night was a beautiful moment, his voice soaring and their duet on I’ve Had (The Time Of My Life) was absolutely fantastic. Kira Malou had a great time stepping into Baby’s a little off-beat shoes in a quirky, fun and flirty performance while Michael O’Reilly was completely swoon worthy as a southern Elvis-inspired Johnny. When Baby and Johnny got together sparks flew and their onstage chemistry was undeniable in the most sexy pas de deux in the West End.
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is really just the film put onstage, with songs from the film sung by the band. It’s not a musical, as the actors don’t sing to express their feelings or to move the story along. In fact, the avoidance of any confrontation between characters became so palpable that whenever a fight emerged, characters would physically run away from each other. After this happening multiple times, it became incredibly frustrating as an audience member as nothing was really resolved or explored fully. The major plot point of Penny’s abortion was somewhat downplayed when Margorie Houseman found out about it and the entire conversation was had in low lighting and mimed while the audience sat awkwardly watching a silent scene unfold and again, no real resolution was had.
Federico Bellone’s direction seemed stuck in the 50s, with scene changes taking place around lit characters, onstage groupings not spaced well and slow clunky transitions that held up the show and muddied the already thin storyline. Roberto Comotti’s set design was effective to set the scene, time and place however the dated design had to be moved around by the cast who often came on mid-scene to do so. Overall the show seemed to take on a parody feeling, however took itself far too seriously resulting in a performance that had the audience laughing for all the wrong reasons. The saving grace of this production was Austin Wilks’ choreography between Johnny and Penny and Johnny and Baby. Slick, confident and extremely sexy these moments were a breath of fresh air and one of the reasons audiences keep coming back to the show after all these years.
Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is nowhere near as strong as it’s jukebox musical predecessor Mamma Mia in terms of character development, plot, direction or staging. However, if Dirty Dancing is your favourite film, you’re in luck- all the iconic moments from the film are included and there’s plenty of chances for audiences to fall in love with Baby and Johnny all over again. Go along for a great night out and while I didn’t have the Time Of My Life, the shows history and longevity prove that someone did.
Reviewed by Stuart James