Theatre review – Dirty Dancing:
This week the highly successful stage version full of high kicks and lifts has touched down in Edinburgh’s Playhouse for a week long run.
On opening night there was enhanced security at the Playhouse which did not detract from the fun of the show which showcases sensational dance moves with nostalgia and a thumping soundtrack featuring live music and rousing recorded renditions of classic sixties sounds.
Directed by Federico Bellone and choreographed brilliantly by Gillian Bruce with sets by Roberto Comotti, the designs are as much a star of the show as are the multi-talented ensemble cast.
Crowd pleasing numbers include most of the originals from the film starring the late Patrick Swayze.
In this record-breaking live show first conceived in 2006 for London’s Aldwych Theatre, Lewis Griffiths takes on the role of Johnny Castle, the flawed dance instructor of Kellerman’s holiday resort.
Griffiths who has also toured with Jersey Boys, Ghost and the Full Monty is the unmistakable star of the show sashaying his way into the heart of 17 year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Katie Eccles).
Frances is a great foil for Johnny as she gradually overcomes her timidity and blossoms from suburban teen to full on dance diva. Both performers get the chemistry exactly right.
For those who have forgotten the film the plot revolves around Frances on vacation in the New York Catskills with her well-heeled parents and rather simpering older sister Lisa.
The Catskill resorts in the 1960s provided plenty of fodder for stand-up comedians. Typically, holidays there would involve a relentless round of camp style activities with all sorts of shenanigans going on after dark. Imagine Butlins or Blackpool, but with weather.
The action here takes place in the Summer of 1963. In a comic nod to the era the MC before curtain-up speaking in a broad New York brogue reminded the audience that cellular phones were not invented then.
Dancing prowess and athleticism are on display from Johnny and his fellow dance instructor Penny played by Carlie Milner, but it is the contrast between the rather twee holiday resort and the seedy staff quarters that brings the choreography into its own.
From sedate waltzes to raunchy late night routines, Gillian Bruce’s choreography in many ways is better than in the celluloid version.
Clever scene setting by Comotti makes for a visual treat and pushes some boundaries in respect to what is possible in a live setting. Especially impressive are the water dance lift sequences.
The master carpenters have also pulled off a tour de force with rotating sets perfectly depicting the goings on behind closed doors. We know that Johnny is good at heart so his bedroom is bathed in light which makes it all the easier for the ladies in the audience to see his impressive physique.
Unlike the movie the live version not only showcases some of the massive spin-off hits like (I’ve had) The Time of My Life, but allows for some great solo singing talent most notably from Sophia Mackay as Elizabeth and Michael Kent as Billy. On opening night Kent a sort of young Donny Osmond lookalike received rapturous applause for his rendition of In the Still of the Night.
An ultimate finale sequence which kept on giving saw Mackay and Kent lend their vocals to the stunning visual display as many of the audience leapt to their feet.
Two slight criticisms, there was an awful lot of stage shouting instead of acting during the speaking sections and the piece was more politicised than the film version with a camp fire rendition of We Shall Overcome jarring a little.
However, small change considering the huge investment this touring production has made in raw talent, and what a treat to hear Johnny deliver “No-one puts baby in the corner.” Cue lots of whooping and whistling.
The end sequences were especially gratifying, way better than the film and played out with humour and several curtain calls. This show brings new generations to this classic and makes the years just slip away for the rest of us. Highly recommended.
Dirty Dancing runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 17 June.