Dirty Dancing Goes Down A Storm

Dirty Dancing Ostend 4 (Centre) Katie Hartland as 'Baby', Lewis Griffiths as 'Johnny' and Carlier Milner as 'Penny' with Ensemble (C) Dreamteam Pics

Someone who knows these things told me there were 2,400 people due in the audience for the Dirty Dancing premiere. So when we entered the Winter Gardens auditorium it wasn’t surprising to see a packed and expectant house. But given the high expectations many would have brought from watching the film could this major production deliver? The short answer is yes.

Briefly for those who don’t know – the action is set in 1963 America, in an age of relative innocence and economic prosperity. A girl on holiday with her family falls for a dashing dancing instructor from the wrong side of the tracks with a colourful past. Her father disapproves, but will eventually come round.

Things got off to a punchy start with a loud backing track from the word go. Although the extent of pre-recording in the show has caused controversy in some quarters it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment. According to the programme there were 44 pieces of music in total, giving a flavour of the high tempo of the production.

The set added to the fast paced nature of the production by morphing at a dizzying speed. A friend overheard one of the set designers earlier in the day saying that it was one of their more challenging installations. Perhaps this is why some technical difficulties occurred, with at times the set changes needing unplanned manual intervention but this didn’t really detract from the experience.

Dirty Dancing Ostend 3 Katie Hartland as 'Baby' and Lewis Griffiths as 'Johnny' (c) Dreamteam Pics
Dirty Dancing Ostend 3 Katie Hartland as ‘Baby’ and Lewis Griffiths as ‘Johnny’ (c) Dreamteam Pics

The key to the success of a performance like this is generally the chemistry or otherwise between the romantic leads. Fortunately Katie Hartland and Lewis Griffiths are excellent as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and Johnny Castle respectively. Hartland deserves particular mention for convincingly portraying the evolution of her character from nervous non-dancer to stage performer. Carlie Milner, who plays Johnny Castle’s previous love interest Penny Johnson, is an excellent dancer bringing her expertise from the 2014 UK Dirty Dancing Tour to this production.

In the ensemble cast there are several other notable performances. Lizzie Otley does a good comedic turn of Baby’s sister Lisa’s karaoke style singing. Tony Stansfield also brings offbeat comedy to the role of Mr Schumacher, which I found somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Stucker’s cameo in ‘Airplane’. The live music which does feature performed by Jo Servi, Michael Cuckson and Matthew James Hinchliffe is of a consistently high standard and was well received by the audience.

As things moved towards the anticipated happy ending the audience were very much on side, with the famous ‘nobody puts baby in the corner’ line greeted euphorically. The iconic body lift manoeuvre was rapturously received and there was a standing ovation at the conclusion of proceedings. This was an audience that was always going to have a good time, but the slickly polished nature of this production went down a storm on the night.

It should be noted that this production carried an advisory that it was unsuitable for younger children, with a lower age limit of 12. As well as dealing with issues such as abortion it includes, without going into detail, brief elements of partial nudity which were very well received by much of the audience.

If you haven’t been yet there is still plenty of time to catch up with Dirty Dancing as it runs until the end of the month, with the last performance on Tuesday 30 August at 7.30pm. Ticket prices start at £15, details are available at www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk. And if you go and enjoy yourself the good news is that Patrick Swayze’s other epic film of the time will be adapted in ‘Ghost – The Musical’ which will feature at the Winter Gardens from Monday 3 to Saturday 15 October.

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • Ann Park.

    Excellent review, we went the last, supposedly, performance expecting bouquets and introductions to behind the scenes characters but understood due to success of the show that would follow at another date. Rightly so. The whole show was brilliant couldn’t fault it singing, dancing, acting, humour and definitely ROMANCE highly predominant with obviously reality takes amongst it. More , more , more productions like this I went in 75 yrs old, nearly, and came out 18+ yrs young. Thanks.
    We paid £50 each but worth it.

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