Theatre Review: Dirty Dancing

The arrival of this classic story on stage also marked the opening of a restored Art Deco bar in the Opera House, combining to make a perfect night of nostalgia

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage – has come to the Winter Gardens Opera House and last night it was rapturously received by an eager audience at the start of its two-week run in Blackpool. With its fusion of chart-topping tracks, sensual dance routines and memorable cinematic scenes this is a production that will leave you wanting to dig out your old VHS player and watch the 1987 film again.

The night was made extra special at the Opera House as it marked the unveiling of a stunning Art Deco space. With a ticket upgrade, theatregoers can now relax in this luxurious hideaway, tucked behind double sand-etched doors featuring geometric shapes and curves. The space has been sympathetically restored to its 1939 origins, including original refurbished seating and wooden friezes of figurines. Prosecco and table service in this setting perfectly set the mood for this night of nostalgia.

The newly refurbished Art Deco bar at the Opera House

People are always going to make comparisons with the original film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey and it must be a challenge to take on these beloved roles, but Kira Malou as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and Michael O’Reilly as Johnny Castle do not disappoint. Malou plays the innocent, doe-eyed teenager to perfection, and O’Reilly certainly sets hearts fluttering when he strips off to reveal his sculpted torso. There’s a great supporting cast too, particularly Georgia Aspinall as Penny Johnson, Johnny’s dancing partner, and Daisy Steere as Lisa Houseman, Baby’s sister, who brings a comic element to the production.

The musical includes all the classic hits from the film as well as incorporating many additional tracks, some of which are recorded and some of which are played by a live band. Unfortunately, the sound balance wasn’t always on point and the vocals, sung by three members of the ensemble, were sometimes drowned out by the music. This, however, did not affect the big number, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, at the end of the show which brought the house down.

If we had seen that last adrenaline pumping dance routine alone, it would have been a triumph.

With 22 songs in act one alone, multiple set changes and very short scenes, some of which seem to finish mid-sentence, the first act has a rather frenetic feel. This kept the energy and the pace going, but the production didn’t really settle down until the second act. The abortion subplot could have been developed further, feeling rushed, and the incorporation of the references to Martin Luther King were somewhat superfluous. Performing some of the iconic scenes from the film is always going to be tricky but the dancing on the log scene and the lift in the lake were handled well with some clever technical wizardry.

And then there is the dancing! That is, after all, what we came for and there is plenty of it. Austin Wilks was certainly kept busy choreographing this production and the hardworking ensemble kept the energy levels up throughout the performance. George Benard Shaw famously said, “Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire,” and this is certainly true for Dirty Dancing. The dialogue between Baby and Johnny gave us little of any sexual chemistry, but once they started dancing together the sensual tension began.

When we got to the final scene, the audience was already looking over their shoulders to see Johnny come strutting through the stalls to rescue Baby, and once he said that well-known line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and whisked her on to the dance floor the audience stood up in anticipation for the show-stopping final number. Everybody was dancing. Everyone was whooping. The dance routine was explosive. That famous lift was met with cheers. If we had seen that last adrenaline pumping dance routine alone, it would have been a triumph. If you haven’t booked your tickets, do so now. It’s going to be a success of a run!

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is at the Opera House until 7th October. Book tickets here, and select Party Upgrade to visit the new Art Deco bar.

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