When Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage opened in the West End in 2006, it had the highest advance sales in history.
Based on the 1987 movie, there was already an eager fan base in place to lap up a live-action romance between working-class dance instructor Johnny Castle and middle-class teen Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. This current extensive UK and Ireland tour may also be garnering healthy box office receipts but the subtitle is a glaring misnomer.
This is less a stage adaptation than a scene-for-scene transfer of the movie and as such it feels incredibly lazy. There has been no attempt to edit the story to make it make sense theatrically and the montages, which work well on screen, look messy and confusing in Federico Bellone’s reverential yet deeply unimaginative production.
On the plus side, Gillian Bruce’s choreography – based on that in the movie – is both fluid and exciting, and Katie Hartland, as Baby, and Lewis Griffiths, as Johnny, have the dance skills and chemistry to make the piece work.
Though this is more a play with music than a musical, Michael Kent and Daniela Pobega, as new character Elizabeth, belt out a few musical numbers with varying degrees of success, including the film’s most famous track, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life. Amid the cardboard characters, Carlie Milner lends a genuine sense of drama to the character of the wronged Penny but there is little room to explore her story fully.
A half-hearted attempt at audience participation by Kent is probably the final nail in the coffin after which, there’s very little left to do except wait for the famous final lift.