Dirty Dancing

2
Tue, 4th Jul 17
Seen on tour at the Bristol Hippodrome.

As a bit of a fan of the film, I had high expectations of Dirty Dancing 'the classic story on stage'. Sadly I was bit disappointed. The staging tried too hard to replicate the film using large pieces of scenery to represent the different parts of Kellerman's Resort and other locations. There were so many set changes in such rapid succession, one involving a car that lasted about 20 seconds, that they interrupted the flow of the dialogue. This made it hard to follow the plot and understand the passing of time. It also made it very difficult to care about even our lead characters or for any form of chemistry to build between them.

Katie Eccles as Frances 'Baby' Houseman did a good job at looking like Baby in the film. While I enjoyed her spirited performance, I didn't ever believe she was 'in the corner'. Lewis Griffiths as Johnny also looked the part but he played his character's cards too close to his chest until too late. All of a sudden, these two characters were apparently deeply in love/lust with no explanation. This may have been due to the fast pace of the first act. The development of Penny's character (played by Carlie Milner) also suffered, though the pace was better in the second act. Penny and Johnny's platonic dance partnership was, however, very believable. I also enjoyed Lizzie Ottley as Baby's annoying sister Lisa. The rest of the cast played their parts well on the whole. However, there appeared to be a disproportionately high number of staff to guests at Kellerman's, which made it unbelievable that only Baby could fill Penny's dancing shoes. The show would greatly benefit from a slightly larger ensemble.

Strictly Come Dancing has raised our expectations of good ballroom dancing and sadly it was lacking, especially in the group dances. Too little of the stage was used and few of the cast seemed to be able to convincingly ballroom dance bearing in most people working or staying at Kellerman's in 1963 would have known how. There also needed to be a stronger contrast between the more staid ballroom dancing by the staff and guests and the secret, dirty dancing that takes place late at night, especially when Penny and Johnny were dancing. Using Argentine Tango at one point did not help. I would also have appreciated seeing more improvement in Baby' dancing (her' journey' in Strictly speak) matching her growing self-confidence and sexual awakening. Mastering the lift in the final scene was not enough.

The sound was terrible, particularly at the beginning of the show. Microphone levels were not well-balanced between the two main live singers (Elizabeth and Billy) and between music and speech. The show also contained a curious combination of live and recorded music leaving me unclear as whether this is a musical or not. The live musicians were great addition to the show but as they were off-stage for more than they were on-stage, I feel more could have been made of their role. Occasionally, some of the actors (but never the leads) would break into song, which in the case of the Dr and Mrs Houseman duet, took me greatly by surprise. It did not make for a comfortable format.

All of this is a real shame as the plot offers many themes that would be worth exploring in more depth, including relationships between fathers and daughters, coming of age, abortion, sexism, class, and/or civil rights. This could have been done in a less rushed, more heartfelt production that took the time to tell some of these stories or a more tongue in cheek version, like the recreated 'lift in the lake' scene. In both cases, using less scenery and more sophisticated lighting to depict the different places would greatly help. The material and talent in the cast are both there to deliver a much better show if it were produced and directed differently.

Although this production left me a bit cold, the largely female audience were very appreciative of the show. There were audible gasps of pleasure when Johnny exposed his chest, laughs in anticipation of and following classic lines from the movie, and most of the audience gave the cast a standing ovation. If you really love the film and aren't a regular theatre go-er, you will probably have the time of your life. For me, this baby can stay put in the corner.

Rebecca Harfield


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