Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 5 August 2023
Here are a pair of questions for you:
Which movie was the most rented film of 1988? Which movie was the first to sell over a million copies?
It was only going to be a matter of time that the coming of age tale of Frances 'Baby' Houseman and dancer Johnny Castle was going to hit the stage. It is nine years since the stage show first hit the Theatre Royal stage and this week it is showing that it can still pack the audiences in. Dare I say it...this version, directed by Frederico Bellone, has more impact than the previous couple of tours that I have seen.
Really? I looked at my notes from previous tours before writing this and I remember being a little disappointed last time at the wasted opportunity that came from limiting the live musicians on stage. The first tour had a tree effect that got stuck before the practice in the water scene. I couldn't stop laughing. Despite that, I recognised that the audience are hanging on every scene - showing a loyalty that you also see when the Rocky Horror Show lands in town.
That was then - this is now. This production of the show comes across as fresh. The cast of dancers open and close the show and are full of energy and great moves from choreographer Austin Wiks. The live band appear regularly, backed up with the wonderful, and varied, singing from Colin Charles (appearing as Tito), Lydia Sterling (appearing as Elizabeth) and Billy Kostecki (appearing as Danny). You also have the chemistry, not only between Kira Malou and Michael O'Reilly as Baby & Johnny, but also the often overlooked coupling of Jack Loy and Taryn Sudding as Baby's parent Jake & Penny. On top of that there are the fab costume designs (Jennifer Irwin) so skirts swish when they should, and amazing wigs (Betti Marini, Lilian Komor) that can cope with the action.
There is a deliberate move to bring the 1987 movie on stage - just as advertised on the posters. Watermelons? Check! Sexy dancing? You've got it! The music from the soundtrack album that sold over 14 million copies? Sorted! Let's stick Baby in the corner and watch the audience cheer.
So what is it about? Dirty Dancing is an American romantic dance drama, written by the original screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, and is based upon her her own upbringing. She was the daughter of a doctor and was called "Baby" as a child. They went to similar vacation resorts as she grew up.
The tale is set in 1963, Dr Houseman and his wife Marjorie are on their family vacation at Kellerman's with they daughters Baby and Lisa (Daisy Steere). The venue is owned by Max Kellerman (Mark McKerracher) and his son Neil (Christian Jones).
The staff at the venue are in two groups: the Ivy League waiters, like Yale medic Robbie (Callum Fitzgerald), who are told to romance the guest's daughters, and the more working class entertainers like Johnny and his dance partner Penny (Georgia Aspinall) who are instructed by Max to stick to selling dance lessons and to keep their hands off the guests.
By day there is plenty to eat and do. The games like Simon Says may seem quaint by current tastes but the dancing is definitely making a comeback thanks to Strictly.
But after hours the entertainment staff are more into the fusion of styles that is "dirty dancing" that Baby is exposed to when she carries in a watermelon into one such party.
The stage is then set with the waiters looking to carry out their function whilst the entertainment staff are trying to cope with their lot. In the mix you have sister Lisa following the usual programme whilst Baby has her eye on more interesting people.
Dirty Dancing is a coming of age tale for Baby, set against a backdrop of change. After all change is in the air for America and this is referenced to with the protests elsewhere.
This show is entertaining. It recognises what the audience have paid to see and ensures that it delivers. Add in the fabulous singing and dancing performances and you have a magical moment.
As a post script - if you are a fan of DD then consider watching "The Movies That Made Us" series 1 episode 1 on Netfix which explains how a film made for less than half the usual budget ended up as a major blockbuster. It makes you appreciate the talent on the theatre stage that have to recreate a show several times a week.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Mark Senior
Dirty Dancing plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal on Tuesday 1 – Saturday 5 August 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
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