Wednesday 11 December 2019

Review: Dirty Dancing, Bord Gais Energy Theatre


Dirty Dancing - two hours of good, clean fun.
Dirty Dancing - two hours of good, clean fun.

Ed Power

At the time of Dirty Dancing's release in 1987, who would have guessed the cheesy tale of holiday romance, tall hair and hot and sweaty choreography would live on as a stone-cold cult classic?

But that's exactly what the movie has become, as demonstrated by the popularity of this spin-off ‘jukebox' musical, watched by more than six million people since opening in London in 2006.

Dirty Dancing made a star of Patrick Swayze and his bequiffed charisma was always going to be difficult to translate to the stage. However, Gareth Bailey, a veteran of productions such as Starlight Express, makes a decent fist of dance teacher Johnny Castle's macho irascibility: he's charming but never sleazy and it makes sense Roseanna Frascona's ‘Baby' Houseman (Jennifer Grey on screen) would fall so utterly for him.

The production is at pains to honour the source material and key scenes from the movie are reprised line-for line, surely a delicious thrill for those who have grown up with the film (there is also an undertow of poignancy in view of Patrick Swayze's tragic death from pancreatic cancer in 2009).

But the stage version is more flamboyant than the movie, in which the song-and-dance scenes really only served as a backdrop for the Baby-Johnny romance. Here, the musical payoffs are front and centre, with tunes such as ‘Hungry Eyes’ and ‘(I've Had) The Time Of My Life’ anchoring the show and prompting squeals of recognition from the packed room. The action opens in 1963, at Kellerman Resort in the Catskill Mountains, where Baby and her upper-middle-class New York family are to spend the summer.

Soon she is swooning over bad-boy dance instructor Johnny, a Marlon Brando- type with walnut crushing pecs and a lock-up-your-daughters glimmer in his eye.

What follows is a bittersweet initiation into adulthood for the innocent Baby — she grows up and learns that life isn't always fair or straightforward.

On its West End debut, Dirty Dancing received a trouncing from critics, who delighted in labelling it ‘Dirgy Dancing' and complained plot and music did not mesh.

The show has since been tweaked and, in its current incarnation, is solidly entertaining: there is singing, dancing, weeping and endless reams of dialogue from the movie (the largely British cast's American accents are generally impeccable too).

For those who like their musicals brash, cheerful and unashamedly populist, Dirty Dancing is two hours of good, clean fun.

Irish Independent

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