BWW Review: DIRTY DANCING, Theatre Royal Brighton
Dirty Dancing was a box office hit in 1987, a coming-of-age summer romance between dance partners-cum-lovers Frances/"Baby" (Kira Malou) and Johnny (Michael O'Reilly).
The film was first adapted for stage in 2004 and has enjoyed worldwide touring success over the years, as well as two stints in London's West End.
Fans of the film are transported away to the summer of 1963 at the Kellerman's resort in a 2018/2019 UK touring production, directed by Federico Bellone, which has just launched at Brighton's Theatre Royal.
The audience see the drama unfold live on stage as staff and holidaymakers of different clans and classes mix.
Malou plays Baby with sweet innocence, growing into the brave protagonist we know and love. She looks the part in an extremely curly wig. Her chemistry with O'Reilly is evident and they dance together with passionate ease.
O'Reilly has big shoes to fill after Patrick Swayze's iconic performance as the sultry dance instructor. He delivers a moderately moody performance, but garners many a wolf-whistle and scream from the audience throughout.
Simone Covele dazzles as Penny Johnson, Johnny's usual dance partner, and Baby's sister Lisa is hilariously portrayed by Lizzie Ottley - her hula is a particular highlight and has the audience in stitches.
There is an inconsistency to the form of the show, as in who sings and why. The show seemingly establishes at the start that it is not a book musical, more a set of scenes accompanied and linked with musical excerpts, much like the film. The short scenes and musical snippets make the show feel a little "bitty" at times, which is perhaps less noticeable when watching the story on screen.
Much of the singing that's included feels natural in the holiday resort setting with group dances, between scenes etc., but there is the odd moment that doesn't, like when Baby's parents (Lynden Edwards and Lori Haley Fox) share a brief duet. Lovely as it is, it sticks out from the rest of the show because we aren't expecting these characters to interact this way.
That said, a notable mention must be made to Sian Gentle-Green and who moves on the narrative with song at many moments in the show joined by Alex Wheeler for the infamous duet that accompanies Baby and Johnny's final dance.
Gillian Bruce's choreography includes plenty of steamy routines to ensure the show lives up to its title, but also features fun group numbers, especially the energetic finale. Roberto Comotti's set design makes use of many rotating pieces, buildings, doorways, trees and fences, giving a fluidity to the location changes.
Valerio Tiberi's lighting design cleverly uses projections to transport us to various locations around the resort. The scene where Baby and Johnny practice that lift in the lake has particularly ingenious staging, which amuses the audience.
A subtle but highly appropriate use of actor-musicians by Bellone as the background entertainment staff allows Kieran Kuypers, Ben Mabberley and Miles Russell to show off their proficiency on many instruments in various different styles.
Jennifer Irwin's costume design has the women in luscious vintage dresses associated with the era and matches many of the protagonists' outfits with what was worn in the film, down to Baby's big finale pink number.
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage will be a familiar experience to those who know and love the movie. Scene for scene, it impressively recreates the classic film, containing themes and messages regarding class and opportunity that are still relevant for audiences today.
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage at Theatre Royal Brighton until 29 September
Photo Credit: Theatre Royal Brighton