Dirty Dancing the Classic Story On Stage: Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Reviewed 25th February 2019
The cult 1987 film, Dirty Dancing, has become a huge hit with fans and the new UK Tour of the on-stage musical version, premiered in the UK in 2006, is currently inviting more fans to have the time of their lives. The story focuses on 17 year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman who finds herself mesmerised by the raunchy dance moves from Johnny Castle, the resort dance instructor. As the two independent young spirits from different backgrounds are thrown together they live what will be the most challenging and triumphant simmer of their lives. Featuring well known hits such as ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do You Love Me?’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ fans of the movie will surely be wanting to catch this musical at a venue near to them.
Unfortunately many fans will be disappointed with Dirty Dancing’s latest production. The dancing, choreographed by Gillian Bruce, is exactly what you would expect to see and is performed well, particularly by Simone Covele who plays Penny. During the group dancing sections the energy rises and the finale is no doubt one of the best parts of the show. The cast are clearly well trained dancers but often during the show the acting is very wooden and lacks emotion making it hard for the audience to really connect with any of the characters. Some lines which are meant to be delivered with lots of emotion actually get missed, or even worse laughed at. No doubt all of the cast, who are highly trained, are capable of portraying the characters journey and emotions but during this performance this was not shown and often scenes felt unimportant and at times, boring.
Kira Malou gives a good performance as ‘Baby’, particulary during the initial scenes when she is able to convincingly look very uncoordinated and new to dancing. Michael O’Reilly’s Johnny Castle struts around the stage in character throughout the show, despite some of the delivery his lines being highly questionable his dancing is spot on and the dancing scenes with both Kira and Michael are very well performed. The direction of the show by Federico Bellone seems to have stayed very safe, but by doing so the performers themselves do not seem connected or committed to the characters which shows through their stilted performance.
The lighting, by Valerio Tiberi, is colourful and bright. The vivid pink lighting works especially effectively and some of the visual effects to show the storms and changing of the day work well. The set, designed by Roberto Bellone, however feels too large and ambitious. The big clubhouse and bulky side sets are a good concept in theory but they are very heavy to move and often the stage managers can be seen wheeling set pieces on and off – it would be better to have cast members choreographed to do this if necessary. At times the set pieces serve no real purpose at all and the transitions between the scenes are overly long. Perhaps having a more simplistic or contemporary set would have worked better for a touring production and made the overall show feel fresher. Unfortunately the iconic lift scene was almost laughable due to some of the decisions made about staging and set design.
The talented band are utilised both on and off stage which makes up, in part, for the lack of song during the show. There are very few vocalists during the show, often shoe-horned in without much necessity or emotion, and although their vocals are very good they sing very few songs which for a musical seems a shame. There are definitely parts of the show which could benefit from having some original songs included to add character and emotion to the often too quick scenes.
Dirty Dancing is world known and will surely attract large numbers of fans to its performances. Perhaps this is why this production has tried to stay so true to the film – but in doing so they have created a show which lacks character, charisma and emotion. Poor direction and staging results in a lacklustre show.
Dirty Dancing plays at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 2nd March 2019. For information and tickets click here. The tour then continues until the 17th August in Leeds, for information and venues click here.
Photo Credit: Alistair Muir