REVIEW: Dirty Dancing – red hot summer romance with scorching dancing
One of the most memorable dance films from the 1980’s comes to the city as a scorching hot stage musical.
Dirty Dancing is now playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.
The original Hollywood dance drama starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey was released in 1987 and it instantly became a runaway success with audiences responding to the romantic drama and passionate music.
The story is pure simplicity and tells the budding summer romance between sweet and innocent teenager Frances “Baby” Houseman and the rugged streetwise Johnny Castle.
Baby and her family are on holiday at a resort in the Catskills when she begins to fall in love with dance instructor Johnny despite the huge culture and class barrier between them.
There’s several subplots and various characters in the story but the main focus remains on the romance between Baby and Johnny. Their journey will see them overcoming all obstacles as their souls reach out to each other through words, music, dance and the cosmic power of love.
This stage adaptation of the hit film would not work if the two performers playing the roles made famous by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey lack connection and chemistry.
Michael O’Reilly and Kira Malou are so good as the two lovers that there were uncanny moments when it seemed as if Swayze and Grey were right up there on The Alexandra’s stage.
Reilly and Malou also have something that seems to go beyond performance. They look like a genuine couple, with genuine trust, and a genuine undercurrent of passion sizzles and ripples around the auditorium whenever Reilly and Malou share a scene.
Their eye-contact, unspoken dialogue, warm body language and dancing convey a truly beautiful soulful connection which makes the theme of love even more potent in the show.
In terms of contrasting characteristics, Malou has the difficult challenge of convincing the audience that she is a shy and awkward dancer at the start of the show. On paper this may sound like an easy thing to pull off, you simply step onto the stage and prance about like a clown and that’s it, job done. Malou goes beyond that crude and simple approach. She really makes the audience believe that Baby is an inexperienced young girl taking her very first steps during her dance lessons with Johnny.
When Malou finally erupts into her climactic dance the effect is sensational and the audience hollered with uncontrolled joy as Baby is gracefully lifted up by Johnny who only moments earlier had rushed through the theatre and jumped onto the stage with the immortal line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”.
Reilly not only raises up Malou high over his head, he also raises the audience’s temperature with his lithe and sassy dancing skills. When he peeled off his top and revealed his naked upper torso – perfectly sculpted and gleaming with a sheen of sweat that seemed to oil and accentuate his muscular physique – the audience became wild and frenzied.
Johnny’s former flame and dance partner Penny – played by Georgia Aspinall – is also sensational. Aspinall’s routines with Reilly are electrifying and drip with eroticism. Her supple movements weave and flow as if she has no bones in her body. Despite playing a troubled character, Aspinall was so good in the role that the audience were left gasping with each of her routines in the show.
The stage show employs a live band and singers, and a massive ensemble of dancers, who help to elevate this stage adaptation of the 1980’s film into a nostalgic trip down memory lane in a vivid and memorable way. Vocalist Tito Suarez belts out the film’s classic songs with melodic energy and he even manages to dance through some of the tracks with such gusto that one wondered what kind of witchcraft he was using to speak, sing, dance and do the splits all in one breath.
Austin Wilks choreographs the classic dance routines from the film and injects a thrilling contemporary edge to the lusty rumba and salsa which had members of the audience whistling and clapping their approval.
Director Federico Bellone, who is also behind the atmospheric set design, keeps the original look and feel of the movie while adding new nuances that will resonate with a modern theatre crowd.
By the time the curtain falls at the end of Dirty Dancing you’ll have had the time of your life.
Dirty Dancing is now playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 22 July