Adapting a cultural landmark such as Dirty Dancing for the stage poses a very particular set of challenges. Straying too far from the source material is risky as the diehard fans will always judge it against the original. Never straying from the source material is equally risky as what follows is usually a pale imitation. The new national tour, which twirls its way onto the stage of the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham this week manages to just about find the right balance with a vibrant production that stays very faithful to the original, which whilst being a crowd favourite, lacks the punch of the 1987 classic.
The plot is identical to that of the film. Set in the summer of 1963, the Houseman family decamp to the Catskills for a summer of dance and wholesome family fun at Kellerman’s holiday camp, including the youngest daughter, Baby. She soon chafes at the strict boundaries set between guest and staff. When bad boy dance instructor Johnny’s usual partner Penny is forced to hang up her shoes for the summer due to an unplanned pregnancy, Baby steps up and begins private lessons with Johnny, much to her father’s chagrin.
The stage adaptation flows effortlessly recreating all of the most famous scenes from the film, using some clever effects and a beautifully crafted revolving set to recreate all areas of Kellerman’s. There is a fine line between fast-paced and frenetic however, and sometimes it felt that they were rushing through some of the most important scenes, missing the opportunity to properly develop both character and relationships, especially the budding romance between the two leads.
Katie Eccles as Baby gives a good performance, showing the earnest desire to help people and the ability to see past their situation in life, no matter who they are, that is essential to the role. However, there are long periods of the show, especially the training montages (again, very slickly done with some very quick changes), where she plays up the goofy side of her character too much, when the 2 star-crossed lovers should begin to experience a coming together through dance.
Stand-in Johnny, Robert Colvin was very commanding and can certainly dance. There were times when he felt a little too polished, however, and failed to recapture some of the Swayze magic. The main issue was his relationship with Penny, Carlie Milner is actually a lot more convincing than his relationship with Baby.
The 2 leads are ably supported by a strong ensemble, packed with wonderful dancers. Lizzie Ottley provides great comic relief as Lisa, Baby’s sister. Michael Kent and Billy Kostecki provide some great vocals to the few live sung numbers. Much of the music is underscored by the band, or take elements from the movie soundtrack.
Ultimately, despite being slightly confused about what it wants to be, a fusion between dance piece, play and full blooded musical, this is one for the fans. Judging by the number of screams when we finally get to final scene and THAT line and THAT lift, there were plenty of them in the house.
Dirty Dancing runs at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 2 June.
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