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REVIEW: Dirty Dancing at Sunderland Empire


Dirty Dancing
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 1st July 2017
Photo: Alistair Muir

Photo: Alistair Muir
Fans of the 1987 classic movie will not be disappointed. This is not one of those musicals in which you expect to see the film live on stage and they change the music and the memorable parts of the dialogue. You want watermelons, you’ve got it. You want sexy dancing, you’ve got it. You want to cheer when Baby’s location in the corner is brought into question? This week’s show at Sunderland Empire has got that too.

Photo: Alistair Muir
It’s the summer of 1963, and 17 year- old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is about to grow up on a holiday she won’t forget. The holiday in New York’s Catskill Mountains with her older sister and parents will involve more than a performance from her sister. Thanks to some personal dance lessons she will find out there’s more to life, thanks to Johnny Castle.

Photo: Alistair Muir
The script was written by Eleanor Bergstein, script writer of the 1987 film. The action concentrates on the central pair of Baby (Katie Eccles) and Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) whilst the other characters are very much on the periphery. Federico Bellone’s direction keeps a very tight ship. This is helped, in no small part, by Roberto Comotti’s set design that relies on three revolving stages in order to keep the action running from scene to scene.
Photo: Alistair Muir
The real selling point from my point of view was the stunning choreography from Gillian Bruce. The dancing ensemble filled the stage with a real positive energy. Carlie Milner pulls of some amazing sequences as Johnny’s dance partner Penny Johnson.  Katie Eccles and Lewis Griffiths themselves are fabulous dancers. They made the lifts in the final sequence look so easy which is a tribute to their own talent and dedication.
Photo: Alistair Muir

Photo: Alistair Muir
It is difficult to describe this as a musical as such though. Yes there is music - lots of it in fact - but it is mainly in the background or there for the dancing. The handful of sung numbers, including (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, is handled by just 4 singers. Jo Servi, when not playing piano, handles one early number. Sophia MacKay gets a number of chances to show the power of her voice whilst Michael Kent was in charge of a couple of crowd pleasers. Lizzie Ottley, of course, as Baby’s sister Lisa gets a  number in the final scene.  The live music is delivered by up to 3 musicians on stage and drums of stage. Our only niggle was that lack of a full live band on stage which seems to be a missed opportunity.

Photo: Alistair Muir
Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stageis a real feel good show that concentrates on vibrant dance routines and the memorable dialogue from the film. Whilst it isn’t going to deliver many surprises to the fans of the film, the staging is very effective. There are a few nice tricks during the dance training scenes. The music is there but we don’t get the big solo numbers in which each principal character states their desires and dreams. Perhaps it is refreshing because of that.  We’ve seen a production of Dirty Dancing before but we prefer this one - it is going to be a hit for the fans of the film.

Review by Stephen Oliver


Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022* or *calls cost up to 7p per minute plus standard network charges. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings. 

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