Dirty Dancing was one of the biggest cinema box-office smashes of the 1980s and judging by the audience that turned out to catch the latest theatre presentation at Cardiff’s New Theatre on Tuesday evening, it still has a huge following.
Set on a holiday resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains during the summer of 1963. 17-year-old Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman is holidaying with her older sister and parents, Baby stumbles across an all-night dance party at the staff quarters and falls not only for the hot dance moves on display there but also the resorts dance instructor, Johnny Castle. As Johnny teaches Baby the steps to make her his new leading lady, the pair must also overcome opposition behind-the scenes in order to stay together as their romance blossoms.
Much of the music featured in the first half of Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is the iconic 60s soundtrack featured in the film, including Bruce Channel’s Hey Baby and Gene Chandler’s Duke of Earl.
While the music plays, the emphasis is on the sultry dance moves performed to startling perfection by the shows leads, Kira Malou as Baby, Michael O Reilly as Johnny and Simone Covelle as Penny.
While Miss Malou contrasts Baby’s persona from juvenile innocence to sexual awakening, O’ Reilly pushes Johnny’s smouldering bad boy persona with sex appeal into full throttle. Their on-stage chemistry gets cheers of appreciation during the dance routines, particularly as they crawl across the stage to each other like prowling tigers for Love is Strange. Female audience members also turn the vocal appreciation up a further notch at various points of O’Reilly’s state of undress during the love scenes.
The second half has more of a musical feel with various characters breaking into song. There are some fun moments here including Mark Faith’s Mr Schumacher performing Besame Mucho, and Lizzie Ottley’s Lisa singing the comedic Lisa’s Hula.
Sian Gentle-Green as Elizabeth and Alex Wheeler as Billy are particularly stand-out with their music moments Yes! And In The Still of The Night respectively, (the latter gaining much appreciation for hitting his final note) before coming together at the end for a magical rendition of I’ve Had The Time of My Life.
My only real criticism was I felt elements of the story including scenes projected on a curtain for the actors to perform with felt more in-keeping with the films 80s origins rather than the early 60s plot-base, which at times was a needless distraction.
However, I could not ignore the appreciation much of the Cardiff crowd gave this production. Like those on stage, they were clearly having the time of their life, and no doubt will continue to do so as the ptoduction continues until Saturday June 8th 2019!