Dirty Dancing (2016/17 Tour) – Theatre Review

Following on from Ghost at Aylesbury Waterside last week, I’m continuing the run of classic films brought to the stage with the newest incarnation of Dirty Dancing on tour, currently at Milton Keynes Theatre. There surely can’t be anyone (even the most ardent of haters) who doesn’t know the storyline but just in case…

It’s the summer of 1963, and our heroine Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Katie Hartland) and her family are heading up to the Catskill Mountains to spend their vacation at Kellerman’s resort, renowned for its talented dance employees. And the most handsome and troubled dancer of all is Johnny Castle (Lewis Griffiths), the bad boy with a heart of gold. The summer is a turbulent one, as circumstances push Baby and Johnny close together. He has to teach her how to dance and they fall madly and deeply in love.

I’m simplifying, of course. There are run through storylines of an accidental pregnancy, a botched abortion, a thief on the loose and Baby’s transformation from… well, the baby of the family, to a young woman. So, with all this in place, it’s interesting that this production introduces even more storylines to round out the narrative.

Original scriptwriter Eleanor Bergstein has delved deeper into the characters and context of the film and on the whole it works well. The increased racial tensions of the period are frequently referenced, with staff off on the Freedom Trail after their summer jobs and Martin Luther King on the radio. Billy (Johnny’s nerdy cousin played by the adorable Michael Kent) has some unrequited love for colleague Elizabeth (Daniela Pobega.) Mr Kellerman (Tony Stansfield) and his band leader Tito (the wonderfully sparkly Trevor Michael Georges) wax lyrical about the changing cultural tide. These touches help with the historical context of the piece and create a more rounded picture of Catskills. It’s a nice addition to the familiar run of the story, and it means whilst we can revel in the fairly paint-by-numbers moments from the film, there is something more to engage our interest.

But, oh how the audience adore those iconic moments! There’s some clever work with set and projections for the classic dancing on the log and practicing lifts in the lake. Baby running up and down steps and throwing herself over railings to practice her dancing is enjoyable to watch (and looks utterly exhausting!) and everyone cheers enthusiastically when Johnny utters those immortal words about Baby and the corner… The choreography from Gillian Bruce is exciting, exhilarating and sexy, and there’s always lots to look at and keep our interest.

However, the second half lags a little in comparison to the first, despite it being shorter. This seems mainly due to the need for some dialogue heavy scenes to ‘wrap up the plot/s’ and several difficult scene changes. Roberto Comotti’s impressive rotating set is clever, but it is also incredibly awkward and cumbersome when things go wrong or there is no music to cover its squeaky mechanisms! There’s also a completely superfluous scene where we watch the female dancers undress from their Kellerman’s uniforms and get ready for a night of dancing. They spend slightly too long dancing around in bra and pants that it begins to feel a little squirmingly voyeuristic, and is not quite equalled by the (much applauded and whooped) view of Griffiths’ bare bottom.

Speaking of Griffiths’ talents (ahem) he is a wonderfully swaggering Johnny, all moody looks and sexy moves with a sad look behind the eyes. Katie Harland is suitably sweet as Baby, and Carlie Milner really wows as Johnny’s dance partner Penny. There is a nice chemistry between the three, and Harland enjoys showing us Baby’s goofier side! The ensemble dancers are electric, and there’s some nice interplay between the other Kellerman’s guests too. Lizzie Ottley is also great fun as Baby’s sister Lisa, and nails her talent show rehearsal!

Fans of the film; you are guaranteed a good time and will leave humming along to your favourite songs from the soundtrack and probably wanting to go home and watch the film. Is this a life-changing piece of theatre? Probably not. But it is awfully good fun for the fans… Excuse me, I’m off to listen to the soundtrack for the twentieth time today.

Dirty Dancing
Milton Keynes Theatre
24th April – 29th April 2017

Then continuing on tour. Details at -

http://dirtydancingontour.com/tickets-tour

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Monday 24th April, 2017.

Author's review: 
4